Judge finds Somerset County Council was in serious breach of
family’s human rights
Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, have successfully secured the
return home of a young woman with autism and severe learning disabilities has
been successfully returned after it was
found the local authority’s decision to keep her in residential care with
restricted access to her family was a serious breach of her human rights.
In a judgment from the regional Court of Protection
in Bristol which was published on 23 September
his Honour Judge Nicholas R Marston found there were a series of ‘systemic
failures’ by Somerset County Council which meant the 19-year-old woman, known
only as ‘P’ for legal reasons and who was represented by Irwin Mitchell,
instructed by the Official Solicitor as her litigation friend, was wrongly kept
away from her family for over a year.
Irwin Mitchell says the case demonstrates the importance of
ensuring all staff working within local authorities are given sufficient
guidance and training about the Mental Capacity Act (MCA).
P, who has autism spectrum disorder and almost no verbal
communication skills, was prevented by social services from returning to her
family home in Yeovil in May last year following bruises to her chest being
Despite teachers witnessing P’s violent behaviour on a
school trip, including hitting herself in her chest area, social services did
not carry out thorough investigations, instead concluding that it was ‘highly
likely that P received significant injury from someone or something other than
herself’ and took the decision that she should not return home following a stay
in respite care.
P was then kept in a respite facility in Yeovil for 6 months
and sedated with medication despite her family’s pleas for her to be allowed
home. The local authority then moved P to an assessment and treatment unit
after it was accepted that the respite placement was unsuitable, where she
remained against her family’s wishes until the case was heard by the Court of
During a 10-day court hearing in Bristol in May this year,
the judge found that a ‘competently conducted investigation by social services
into the bruises would have swiftly concluded that there was not sufficient
evidence to conclude P’s safety was at risk by returning her home.’
In addition, the Court criticised the local authority for
failing to act in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act, for failing to bring
the matter to the Court of Protection for a hearing on the matter for six
months and for failing to consult with the family and inform them that they
could make an application.
In total, P was kept in residential homes with restricted
access to her family for nearly a year. The first facility was found to be
inadequate to meet her complex care needs and she was sedated with medication
without consulting her parents, which was also unlawful.
Council admitted that P had been deprived of her liberty and apologised to the
family for its ‘procedurally inappropriate and unlawful’ actions.
Following the 10-day hearing, the judge concluded
that it was in P’s best interests that she was returned to the family home and
that Somerset County Council had illustrated a failure to respect the human
rights of both P and her family.The full judgment is available here.