Evie Robson, 26th February 2021
I’m a Year 12 student (aged 16) interested in studying Law at university but I’m not able to get any work experience due to the pandemic, so observing a Court of Protection hearing was a great opportunity.
I was able to attend because my mum, a psychologist who is interested in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in relation to her work, has attended many online Court of Protection hearings in the past few months through the Open Justice Court of Protection Project, and so helped me to get access.
On the morning of the court hearing, I saw a tweet about a hearing taking place that afternoon. My mum helped me to draft an email requesting access. In doing this, I mentioned that I was a sixth form student wishing to study law, and this was my reason for wanting to attend. I also said that my mum was requesting access too, to the same hearing.
The hearing was scheduled for 2.00pm. In response to my email I received an automatic response, saying they would reply as soon as possible, and then I got an access email half an hour before the case began – giving me the details for joining by phone, as this hearing was a telephone dial-in one. When I dialled in, I had to confirm to the judge that I was at the hearing and after everyone had identified themselves, the hearing started.
Along with completing an online introductory course to English Common Law and attending fortnightly webinars on the topic of Open Justice, listening in to a Court of Protection hearing has greatly contributed to my expanding knowledge and interest in the law. This was an especially compelling and thought-provoking experience, because witnessing the law in action made everything I have learnt over the past few months seem much more real.
The case I observed was a phone hearing (COP 1368665T), before District Judge Mullins on 17th February 2021, concerning a woman in her 80s with dementia who lives in residential social care and wishes to move back home. The court had to decide whether or not she has the capacity to make that decision and if she didn’t (everyone agreed she did not), then what other options there were for her, given that she didn’t want to stay where she was. It seems she requires 24-hour residential care so moving back home is not a realistic option for her. Also, the bungalow she calls ‘home’ is (according to her son-in-law) no longer habitable because the ceiling has collapsed.
This hearing was a ‘directions’ hearing to figure out what needed to be done for the final hearing which will be sometime after 10th May 2021. The judge made sure that the woman’s own views would be properly accessed and that she would be able to speak to him, and participate in the next court hearing if she wanted to.
Although much of the hearing I attended related more to the procedural than the personal elements of the case, it was still a brilliant experience to witness life in the courts for the first time. I noticed the hierarchy of the roles in action, with all addressing the judge with obvious respect, and I heard from the discussions just how broad the law is – so many aspects of law can be applied to different situations and those involved in the legal proceedings have a huge job to decide which sections of laws will be relevant.
It certainly felt a little overwhelming to be exposed to the expanse of legal terminology that was so easily understood by the members in the courtroom, and it was surprising to hear how easily the proceedings flowed. This particularly contrasted to mainstream media representations, particularly seen in films, of arduous, unending procedures and adversarial ways of being in court. The hearing only lasted around half an hour. Each of the members in the courtroom agreed on every issue raised, which was quite unexpected as in my mind, when things are brought to court, there is much more conflict between the parties.
I’m very grateful to have had this experience of seeing the law in action for the first time despite not being able to travel to court. Although the proceedings were relatively straightforward, it was particularly interesting to observe a real-life hearing, and consider what I would do in each of the positions of the people in the courtroom.
I hope to attend more Court of Protection hearings in the future to further experience how the law works in action, and to think critically about the legal arguments I come across in each case.
Evie Robson is a Year 12 student studying English Literature, French, Maths and Further Maths at Whitley Bay High School.