Somerset County Council v MK and OthersPlease see attached file below for the full judgment.
Somerset County Council has received heavy criticism in a
recent landmark judgment from the Court of Protection following the Council’s
involvement in the case of P, a young Somerset-based woman with autism and a
The case has been said by some to be one of the most serious
deprivation of liberty cases with which the Court of Protection has had to
The proceedings arose because of the council’s decision to
prevent P from leaving respite care and
returning to live with her family. In pursuing this course, the council
was held by the Court of Protection to have unlawfully deprived P of her
liberty for a period of 14 months.
P had been kept in respite care by the council following the
discovery of bruising on her chest. In deciding to detain P in this way, the council
relied on unsubstantiated allegations that the bruising had been caused within
the home environment.
Significantly, however, the council did not take account
of several other possible explanations for the cause of the bruising, not least
the fact that P had been observed hitting herself in that area and that she had
also taken a member of staff to ground whilst out on a school trip. Crucially
also, P herself was not given the opportunity to explain how the bruising had
Staff from the council who assessed the bruising at the time
under the council’s safeguarding framework failed to properly investigate the
evidence and failed also to disclose to assessing medics that P may have
sustained the bruising for a variety of reasons other than abuse.
P’s mother, M, was a party to the proceedings and maintained
throughout that the bruising had not been caused at home. Her account was
supported by the evidence. M also maintained that the respite care into which
the Council moved P was entirely unsuitable for her needs.
In delivering his judgement that the council had unlawfully
deprived P of her liberty, His Honour Judge Marston criticised the council for
its systemic failure, its corporate failings and its misguided
philosophies. The council continued to
pursue an unsubstantiated case against the family, and refused to drop
allegations made against them.
His Honour Judge Marston also agreed with M that the initial
respite placement was inappropriate for someone with P’s needs and that this
would have been ‘stunningly obvious’ to those involved.
Fourteen months after she was
prevented from doing so, P has finally returned home to live with M, and a
claim for damages is now being pursued on behalf of both P and M.
M was represented in the proceedings by Catrin Blake from Butler
and Co solicitors, a
based firm specialising in representing patients and families in Court of
Protection proceedings. M was also represented by Mr Kevin Farquharson and Ms
Claire Wills-Goldingham QC of Albion Chambers,
A crucial feature of the case was that M had not been
advised by the council’s social workers, as she should have been, that she
herself had the right to go to the Court of Protection to challenge the council’s
decision. It was not therefore until the council brought separate proceedings
some months later that M was prompted to obtain legal advice.
The case highlights a clear lack of understanding on the
part of the council into this crucial area of law and procedure, a lack of
understanding which led to a vulnerable adult being deprived of her liberty and
separated from her family.
As importantly perhaps, the case also acts as a reminder to
all those involved in the care of vulnerable adults that they should seek
specialist legal advice when issues such as this arise. Legal aid is often
available to cover advice and representation in such cases.
In the Court of Protection (sitting at Bristol)
In the matter of Somerset County Council v MK
Date: 6th July 2014
His Honour Judge Nicholas Marston
Somerset County Council
Robin Tolson Q.C. and Louise O'Neil for the local authority
Aswini Weereratne for MK
Claire Wills-Goldingham QC and Kevin Farquharson for M
The 3rd and 4th Respondents appeared in person
Somerset County Council v MK and Others