Return to our regular Friday seminars introduced me to the concept of ‘Inherent Jurisdiction’.
We heard the story of a gentleman in his late 90s who had been living alone and neglecting himself. His son came to live with him to provide help, but the son also had difficulties and was thought to be exploiting his father and the situation. An episode of illness took Douglas Meyers into hospital – from there he was placed in a care home and continued recovery. He was visited by his son and expressed a wish to be allowed to return home. Assessment of his mental capacity at first suggested he lacked competence to make a decision on this matter, but further assessment confirmed that he did have capacity. The situation was referred the High Court by the local authority and heard by Judge Sir Philip Drury Moor
His view was that Meyers, who is blind and has diabetes, has capacity but that his wish to return home would be hazardous if it was to be in the company of his son, and that his decision was influenced by pressure from his son. We understand that Mr Meyers has been enabled to return home with a comprehensive support package, and in the absence of his son www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-47574356
Overall this is an informative and reassuring story: The use of ‘Inherent Jurisdiction’ has allowed what would seem to be common sense to prevail in a situation where unthinking application of the rules of the Mental Capacity Act would have left a very vulnerable old man exposed to the risk of further exploitation and hazard.
The case got us talking about similar scenarios we have encountered over our years in practice. It gave chance to remember individuals whose extreme conditions of neglect burned deep into our memories. We also remembered the families, staff and other colleagues who helped resolve situations. We were pleased to rehearse more about the Diogenes Syndrome www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(75)91280-5/fulltext
Many people who get into such states are found to be mentally normal – not suffering from a major psychiatric disorder, though some do. In the presence of a mental disorder, the Mental Health Act might be useful. In its absence there was Section 47 of the National Assistance Act 1948. This was used variably by different authorities. There is a note in Section 46 of the Care Act 2015 that Section 47 of the National Assistance Act has now been superseded by the new legislation The Care Act 2014: Promoting well-being, safeguarding vulnerable adults and funding | Bevan Brittan LLP
The use of Section 47 was reviewed by Tim Spencer-Lane 2009.
Spencer-Lane T (2009) Lost in a legal maze: Community Care Law and People with Mental Health problems. Journal of Mental health Law pp 139-148.
Areas of experience and practice which give colour to our routines – to be remembered, but still encountered day by day.