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Court of Protection
February 5, 2011 permalink
The most feared legal action in Britain is not criminal prosecution, but being "sectioned", put away as legally incompetent on the word of a doctor, or in the current article, on the word of a social worker. John Hemming comments on the need for the courts overseeing the process, the Court of Protection. Once put away, many British prisoners are held in secret, without disclosure of their names.
John Hemming MP: Court of Protection must be reformed
The Court of Protection suffers from the same procedural problems as the rest of the Family Division. The first problem is the secrecy of the process.
The lack of transparency conceals the second problem with the Court of Protection, which in the same way as much of Family Law relies upon the opinions of individual experts. The opinion of a single social worker that someone does not have the capacity to decide where they live is sufficient for someone to lose their freedom, in secret and without the right to a second opinion.
This problem of process and the appointment of the Official Solicitor as a litigation friend is not limited to the Family Division.
It also happens in other areas of the justice system. What happens when the Official Solicitor is brought in is that a party to a case loses their ability to decide what is done about their case. This, again, is done on the advice of a single expert. I am currently in touch via email with someone who lives in Bristol who quite clearly understands their case. However, they seem to find it impossible to get rid of the Official Solicitor.
I have been asking Parliament to establish an inqury into the number of secret prisoners that there are in the UK. I am aware of one case where a girl has been drugged and imprisoned where she has no right to decide whether she is forcibly medicated and no right to decide where she lives, but this is argued to be justified in order to protect her from her father who is now dead.
The Court of Protection needs urgent action in two areas. One is accountability. It also needs the publication of anonymous judgments and an independent inquiry by Parliament into the numbers of secret prisoners.
The second area is a more general one of the reliability of expert opinion. It cannot be right for someone to be imprisoned merely on the say-so evidence of a single council officer. The local authority must be prevented from deciding which expert is appointed to give an opinion on an individual case. He who controls who the piper is calls the tune. The tune called by the local authority is "go to jail, go directly to jail and do not collect an independent opinion on the way".
John Hemming MP is Chairman of Justice for Families and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law and the Court of Protection.