By Upeka de Silva – 17th June, 2020
The opportunity to observe Court of Protection hearings from the comfort of my own home and learn how the courts are adapting to this new normal is truly exciting.
On 12th June 2020 I requested access to a Court of Protection hearing scheduled for 15th June 2002 which was very efficiently granted together with a Microsoft Teams link. The Clerk to The Honourable Mr Justice Hayden was fabulously organised by welcoming guests and explaining the importance of muting and switching off our devices. Unfortunately, the issues to be addressed in the hearing were not known to me until the hearing had started and as it turned out to be about financial deputyships which I found hard to follow I chose to leave the hearing when they briefly adjourned. In order not to waste the Clerk’s time, I would strongly recommend that a very brief indication of the issues be included against each listing for COP hearings in the Family Division (as they are on the First Avenue House listings).
I persevered and on 16th of June 2020 was pleased to be given access to a different hearing, this time before Mr Justice Williams, also listed without any indication of the issues. The case was heard again via Microsoft Teams. There wasn’t a welcome or introductory summary of the case to be discussed, but I knew what I had to do as a Public Observer, and the parties introduced themselves and their roles which was helpful. There was an issue with papers not having been appropriately circulated (the judge had not received the bundle) and I was impressed with the Clerk being able to share her screen so that an order from a previous hearing before a different judge was made visible to all.
The case (listed as Case 13155577 Re: M), created a rollercoaster of emotions. It related to a contact order between a mother (the applicant), a brother (litigation friend) and a local authority care home in which P was currently residing. While there were Covid-19 related concerns in relation to visiting, the primary tension seemed to be about a breakdown in trust and cooperation between the mother who wanted to bring and share lunch with her autistic son and the care home who had refused her admittance for a period. It was heart-breaking to think this had to come to court. On the other hand, Mr Justice Williams maintained unwavering focus on what is right for P and preventing him being exposed to a toxic atmosphere. The hearing lasted an hour, an order requiring both flexibility and stability was granted, and I left feeling reassured that person-centred decision-making, an issue I feel strongly about, prevailed.
I look forward to observing at least a couple more hearings and am grateful for all the tips provided by the Open Justice Court of Protection Project – http://www.openjusticecourtofprotection.org
Upeka de Silva studied law with a focus on human rights and medical ethics. She spent thirteen years working on promoting international sexual and reproductive rights and now works to support people to plan ahead in line with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 at Compassion in Dying. Upeka is passionate about supporting people to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives and about ensuring that their stories are heard. Observing CoP hearings helps her to see these principles in practice.
She tweets @de_upeka