Right to Family Life in a Care Home during a Pandemic: Michelle Davies part 2

By Evie Robson, 9th April 2021

Everyone is suffering as a result of the pandemic.  Mr Justice Hayden described it as ‘a pandemic in which fundamental rights and liberties are at every corner curbed’. The ‘right to family life’ (Article 8 of the Human Rights Act) has been one of the most painful casualties of the public health emergency.  I have so many friends who have not hugged their grandparents in over a year and many who have lost their loved ones too. 

On Wednesday 17th March 2021 I observed a hearing before Mr Justice Hayden (case no: 13677496). I’ve previously attended hearings via telephone (and blogged about one here) but this was the first hearing I’ve attended via video link, and also the first time I’ve had the opportunity to observe Mr Justice Hayden, Vice President of the Court of Protection. I am 16 years old and my reason for wanting to observe court hearings is because I intend to study law at university – so this offered me the opportunity to see how the court works in practice.

In the hearing I observed, the person at the centre of the case, Michelle Davies (whose name, unusually, is not protected by a transparency order) has had limited contact with her family over the past year due to the pandemic. I have no elderly relatives living in a care home, and so hearing about Michelle’s situation introduced me to a new perspective regarding the pandemic – how is it possible to balance contact with your loved ones whilst protecting your personal health, and the health of the others too? This hearing opened my eyes to the experiences of those living in care homes – those whose physical health is most at risk from coronavirus, but whose mental health has suffered equally, with an inhuman decrease in contact with the people they love.

Overall, I was touched to see the humanity in the online courtroom, and the interpersonal skills of Mr Justice Hayden, who entirely contradicts my prior assumptions that a judge needs to be distant, formal, and impersonal in his demeanour. However, I spent much of the hearing perplexed as to the reason why it was in court in the first place.

Background

Michelle Davies, who is only in her 50s, has been in residential care since 14th December 2018, when she suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage and then, a week later, a stroke, which caused brain damage. From mid-December 2018 until 17th March 2020, Michelle’s husband, Dr John Davies, visited his wife for many hours every day. That all changed with onset of the public health emergency.

When the application was issued (in October 2020) Michelle Davies was in a different placement and visits had been banned completely. For months in the summer of 2020, John Davies was not permitted to visit at all, and visits were very restricted after that – largely limited to video calls.  Believing this to be a violation of Michelle’s right to family life (Article 8), John Davies – acting as litigation friend for his wife, represented in court by Lorraine Cavanagh QC – applied to the court seeking increased contact.  Michelle moved to her current placement on 16th November 2020.

At an earlier hearing, back in November 2020 (blogged about by Celia Kitzinger here),  a first attempt was made to resolve this situation. I had read this blog just a week or so earlier, with the intention of attending the next hearing on Monday 8th March. As it happened,  I then wasn’t able to attend that hearing and I was unaware when I joined the hearing on Wednesday 17th March that it concerned the same case: I only realised this when discussions began, and I felt glad to already know much of the key information.

At the hearing on the 8th March 2021 (this information is via Celia Kitzinger[1]), counsel for Michelle Davies reported that there had been just one visit in the last three months where Michelle Davies and her husband had been able to hold hands inside the care home. (There had also been some window visits.)  Counsel was seeking an interim order for face-to-face contact between John and Michelle Davies inside the care home at least twice a week, pending the next hearing – as well as face-to-face contact for Michelle and her parents (who were both ill) and daily window contact with others including Michelle’s son and other family and friends.

These visits would amount to a lot more contact than most care home residents are (or were)  able to have. 

Counsel invited the court to consider whether John Davies met the criteria to be an ‘essential care giver’ (he was considered not to do so by the care home) – but that issue was not resolved. Due to government changes in care home visiting, care home residents can (from Monday 8th March) have a ‘single named visitor’ (someone who frequently visits their loved one but with minimal physical contact) but there is a different category of visitor named  an ‘essential caregiver’ – applying to someone ‘where close contact personal care from a loved one is critical for the resident’s immediate health and wellbeing. The differentiation between these two roles is not particularly clear in the government guidance but the applicant argued that John Davies fulfils this role because of his involvement (informally) in supporting Michelle’s neurorehabilitation and averting mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. It was also argued that it was in Michelle’s best interests to have these visits.

The draft order on 8th March 2020 was that Michelle Davies:

  • Shall have face-to-face contact including physical contact with John Davies on no less than 2 occasions a week (for a period of no less than 1 hour on each occasion).
  • Shall have face to face contact with her parents on at least 2 occasions before the next hearing.  
  • Shall have direct contact (which may be by window contact) with John Davies and Kane Davies [son]  and other family and friends on a daily basis at such times and for such duration as may be agreed with the family and [Care Provider].

For the long term, the hearing on 8th March was adjourned for a meeting to be held between the parties and for the care home to identify a visiting regime acceptable to everyone. This turned out not to have been possible by the date of the hearing I observed on 17th March 2021.

My experience of the hearing on 17th March 2021

The hearing involved Lorraine Cavanagh QC, representing Michelle Davies via John Davies as her litigation friend, Victoria Butler Cole representing the local authority, and the care home manager in person, representing the care home.

By the time of this hearing, many things had changed in the 9 days since this case was last in court.

  1. A death in the family – Michelle Davies’ mother had died.
  2. Available visiting slots – John Davies had been able to significantly increase his visits.
  3. Disagreement about whether Michelle Davies has capacity to agree to (or to challenge) the visiting policy herself: the care home had conducted a capacity assessment and said Michelle had capacity to make her own decisions regarding this matter, and that she had agreed to curtail her visits from her husband. Counsel for Michelle did not accept this capacity assessment.
  4. The care home terminated Michelle’s placement (in part due to [3] above).

The backdrop for this hearing is that the care home placement is intended only to be temporary, until John Davies is able to get building work completed on his house so that Michelle can return home, hopefully by the end of this year.

  1. A death in the family

First of all, Michelle’s mother had sadly passed away on Tuesday 9th March 2021, and John Davies only broke this news to his wife the day before this court hearing, during a lengthy (one and a half hour) visiting slot. John Davies described his wife as unsurprisingly ‘very distressed’ and becoming ‘more and more withdrawn’, the care home said she’d had a broken night and had been sobbing afterwards. Having seen her that very morning before going into court, John Davies said he had only managed to get ‘one smile out of her’. John Davies also expressed that ‘informing her of her mother’s death was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do’.

When Mr Justice Hayden asked for John Davies’ honest opinion as to whether Michelle will be able, in every sense of the word, to attend her mother’s funeral, he expressed with certainty that he was ‘keen’ for her to go. Everyone agreed that it would be best to take the matter ‘on a day by day, hour by hour’ basis. Whether Michelle attends or does not attend her mother’s funeral is of course not a decision to be made by the court, but I feel that the discussion around it was important in order for all in the courtroom to have a better understanding of Michelle’s capacity – and of her emotional state – at the moment, at this obviously distressing time.

2. Available visiting slots

Between the 8th and 17th March, John Davies was able to visit his wife on four occasions (on the 9th, 11th, 13th and 16th), each visit being one and a half hours. This was more than the court had been asked to order and this was possible because the care home had arranged 30-minute visiting slots for all residents, not all of which were then used. John Davies had taken the opportunity to use the unclaimed visiting slots, and by taking two consecutive 30-minute slots, he gained the half an hour cleaning time scheduled in between visitors as well.  

Despite the “lengthy and meaningful time” that the couple have been able to spend together recently, the case was back in court because this happy situation is dependent on the non-uptake of visiting slots by other patients’ families. It’s not clear why other residents have not been using their visiting slots:  it may be that the residents are awaiting their second vaccinations, or that their elderly visitors are waiting to be fully vaccinated.  All of this could change, and if it does, and other families request visiting slots, the only arrangement that the care home will commit to is that John Davies can visit for one 30-minute slot on one occasion per week.  

So, the purpose of the hearing initially was to seek an interim order, based on a best interests analysis for Michelle Davies, that she should normally have a minimum of 2 visits a week from John Davies, each lasting one hour.  This, said Lorraine Cavanagh QC, is necessary because government guidance is not law, and the law requires best interests decision making and bespoke arrangements for residents who lack capacity to decide their visiting arrangements for themselves.  The care home cannot, said Lorraine Cavanagh QC, simply apply a blanket policy to all residents – everyone has their own individual needs.

In a supplementary position statement submitted by the care home on the morning of the hearing, the care home stated clearly that they:

 “ask the court to have regard to the limits on what the court has the power to do.  Presently, regretfully, [we] are required for public health reasons and to ensure the safety of residents and staff members to limit visits to the Home.  All residents who live in the home who have capacity are requested to consent to this policy.  The visiting arrangements that the Applicant is seeking is not presently an available option that can be offered to any resident in the home”. 

3. Disagreement about whether Michelle Davies has capacity to consent to (or to challenge) the visiting policy herself

Mr Justice Hayden helpfully summarised a significant development since the previous hearing.  Addressing Lorraine Cavanagh QC, he said: 

What you’re saying is that the Director and Deputy Director of the care home undertook an assessment to see if Michelle Davies herself had the capacity to make a decision about whether to have limited contact with her husband in accordance with the way the home has perceived their obligations, i.e. 30 minutes once a week, in parity with other residents.  Their conclusion was that she does have such capacity and is content to limit her contact with her husband in that way. And you are suggesting that their conclusion is difficult to reconcile with everything we know about Mrs Davies, the way she has lived her life, her relationship with her husband, and what has been seen in the course of their meetings”.

Yes,” said Lorraine Cavanagh QC.  “And, also, her communication abilities.”  

According to the care home manager, who was present in court, Michelle Davies is able to understand the visiting policy, and does consent to be bound by it. Capacity, said the manager, should be presumed – and there is no indication in her view that Michelle Davies lacks capacity to understand the situation. In her professional opinion (and that of the deputy manager) Mrs Davies has capacity to understand the visiting policy, the restrictions this places on visitors, the reasons for the visiting policy and the risks that the visiting policy is seeking to minimise. She understands that because of the pandemic, the number of visits to the home is limited. 

Michelle made it known that she would not want any other resident to have their visiting allocation reduced to enable her to secure additional visits. She would not be happy if anyone else was deprived of visits because she wanted to have more. She’s a very empathetic and community-minded person. That’s not been taken into consideration on this.”

If Michelle Davies has capacity to make her own decisions about visiting arrangements (as the care home assessors say), then no best interests decision can be made on her behalf.

However, Lorraine Cavanagh QC says, on Michelle’s behalf, that her “range of communication ability simply cannot convey the decision attributed to her unless she was led and nodded in agreement”.

In assessing a person’s capacity to make a decision, it’s important to determine what the relevant information is that a person would need to be able to understand, retain and weigh in making that decision.  According to Lorraine Cavanagh QC: 

The assessors appear to have attempted to appeal to Michelle Davies’ altruistic personality and appear not to have recorded a balanced list of the relevant information that she would need to understand to make such a decision.  There is, we submit, a most unfortunate biased quality to this assessment. It appears to be an exercise in persuasion rather than an assessment of capacity; the contents suggest that the outcome was inevitable before the assessment began, we submit”. (paragraph 21, position statement, counsel for Michelle Davies).

In summary, “the applicant disputes the quality of, and the conclusions reached in, the assessment” of Michelle’s capacity.  As counsel for Michelle Davies, Lorraine Cavanagh QC disputes that Michelle Davies has capacity to consent to the visiting policy, maintaining that she does not, and she says that Michelle Davies cannot make her own decision: rather a full best interests decision-making process is required by the court. (paragraph 22, position statement, counsel for Michelle Davies). 

Given the difference in opinion about Michelle Davies’ capacity, all parties had come to an agreement, before the hearing began, that an independent psychiatric opinion was necessary to determine Michelle Davies’ capacity to conduct proceedings, and to take decisions as to her place of residence, her care package, her contact with family and friends, and whether or not to accept restrictions on her contact with her husband in accordance with the care home’s general policy.

4. The care home terminated Michelle’s placement

The most significant change, from the court’s perspective, was that on the morning of the hearing at 9.58am, the manager of Michelle’s care home had emailed John Davies, terminating Michelle’s placement, and giving her notice to leave. 

This seems to have been an absolute bombshell for everyone. The judge referred to the “parlous position that we’ve reached today” and asked “how have we got to such a pass? And at a time of such extremity for Mrs Davies.”

The care home was clear in its position statement (submitted on 12th March) that:

 “if it is ordered by the Court that it is in Mrs Davies’ best interests to receive two one-hour visits weekly, and these visits must be guaranteed, it is with considerable regret that [the care home] will be required to serve notice. [The care home] cannot guarantee Dr Davies nearly 20% of the visiting slots that are currently available. This would be manifestly unequitable and ultimately could lead to harm to other residents. [We] cannot increase the number of visiting slots available because this cannot be managed safely and in accordance with government and infection control guidelines.”

By the time of the court hearing on 17th March, the care home had served notice. This had been precipitated, said Lorraine Cavanagh QC, by her criticisms of the capacity assessment undertaken by the care home manager (paragraphs 21 and 22 from the position statement, quoted in the previous section). The care home manager felt “professionally undermined” and “accused of undertaking a capacity assessment with a particular outcome in mind”. This is not, said Lorraine Cavanagh QC, what was intended. “We are not suggesting any form of deliberate, outcome-led assessment” and “Nothing in that paragraph suggests anything fraudulent or undermines [the care home manager’s] professionalism”.

The decision to terminate Michelle Davies’ placement was (said the care home manager) “not a decision that had been taken lightly“. From her manner and considered tone, I could not help but think that the manager had the best interests of all the residents in the care home at heart, and those interests were equal and not exclusive to Michelle. I think this attitude is admirable, for although fairness is essential in a care home manager, I am sure it is not easily attainable. She was evidently distressed about the way the court had become involved with Michelle and felt that things would have worked out better without lawyers involved.

We’ve got on tremendously well, me and John.  We could have sorted this out without all this to-ing and fro-ing and putting me in a position where I’ve felt I’ve had no other option but to terminate Michelle’s placement.  I knew I’d be able to ensure John would get more than his half-hour once a week, but there have been constant demands to put that down in black and white when it’s not between me and John – it’s about the lawyers that have become involved at all stages.  What can be worked out seems to have been lost in the ether somewhere.  I don’t appreciate being accused of being unprofessional.  I’m a very hands-on manager. I’m not a legal bod, and I feel as if I’ve been pushed into a corner, and so has John.  Why can’t we sort this out?”

I can completely understand the care home manager’s position.  She must feel that she is being pressured and criticised for simply trying to do her job fairly for all involved.  

The judge’s position

Under the circumstances, Mr Justice Hayden was obviously reluctant to order the capacity assessments requested by Lorraine Cavanagh QC (and agreed by all parties).  He suggested that they might, under the very specific circumstances of this case, be a “distraction” from the key issues, and that they risk “merely burdening Mrs Davies and achieving very little practically speaking”. He queried “whether this is the right time for these assessments”. 

I don’t want to drive a coach and horses through a position that’s been agreed by two experienced counsel, but I’m slightly concerned that we are veering off to a position that, as John Hopkins used to say, has ‘every kind of sense apart from common sense’”.  

To me, this was no longer a matter for the courts. There appeared to be a lot of conflict and much misunderstanding that would be better resolved through conversation between John Davies and the care home staff, and not in an unnecessary legal environment. Mr Justice Hayden seemed to be of the same view.  He said he would “trust in the instructs of [the care home manager] and the instincts of Dr Davies to get this right”, adding, “I genuinely hope you are both able to work this out”.  

Bringing the case to court again seemed to me to bring a lot of stress and very little benefit to everyone involved – so why was it there in the first place? Michelle’s case had a history in the courts, and so the legal solution was easily accessible: it felt as though she was on a legal treadmill and it’s hard to step off. Many people would assume that an issue taken to court could reach a faster and clearer conclusion than if it was left alone to the conflicted parties. However, this circumstance has shown me how that assumption will not always be true. 

Mr Justice Hayden made a poignant statement when he said:

 “If ever a case needed a space for quiet reflection, it is this one at this point.  I think it would be terrible if Mrs Davies had to move to another home on an interim basis before she got home. I could only see that as entirely inimical to her welfare. I don’t think [the care home manager] would want that, any more than I would or Dr Davies would. I think if we focus on the goal at the end of this, and the timescales involved, that is more likely to guide us in the right direction.”

Perhaps a much smoother, fairer and more considered answer could be found if the parties shifted their reliance from the courtroom, and the law, and placed it upon the good faith of each other, to carefully consider and decide the best interests of Michelle Davies.

Humanity in the Court of Protection

Most of all throughout the hearing, I was warmed, and a little surprised, by the kindness and consideration shown by Mr Justice Hayden to all the parties involved. 

All my visions of an utterly formal hearing were shattered by his easy conversation with John Davies on personal matters as well as professional. Partway through the hearing, there was a smooth shift in discussion from the heavy matters at hand to what Michelle loved to eat. John Davies told everyone that “Michelle was an excellent cook and I was excellent at eating it“. I found it heart-warming to be witness to such a down to earth and human conversation in a legal environment that can so often be consumed by deadlines and documents, and the smiles on the faces of everyone with their video on proved that many others felt the same way. 

This humanity is something I have come to see as a necessity in the courts – how can we as a society trust the law to be upheld if not by people who are fundamentally humane?

Though the complexities of law and guidance can easily become impersonal, I also noticed how everything discussed in the courtroom was brought back to John and Michelle as people, to their experiences and their relationship with each other.  This showed me the importance of personal interpretation in a system which is so easily consumed by intricate wording and exact definitions.

From an outsider’s perspective, the court can appear quite intimidating and inaccessible. What this hearing showed me was that this is not always the case. Near the end of the hearing, Mr Justice Hayden pointed out the trophies which he could see in the background of John Davies’ video: they were rugby trophies, from what John Davies described as “a previous life almost“, both in time and in situation. This was another heart-warming moment for me as an observer, and it was interesting to note that this exchange was only possible due to the use of a video platform, enabling the judge to see into John Davies’ home instead of being situated in the conventional environment of the courtroom.

As the hearing drew to an end, Mr Justice Hayden remarked how John was “going for gold to get your wife home“. This subtle link to their earlier discussion brought smiles all round, and it emphasised to me the most important consequences of the hearing: considering Michelle’s best interests in the long term, not getting caught up in the strain of the moment and treating every person individually – not allowing them to just become a name or a pixelated image.

Finally, Mr Justice Hayden made clear that, despite the care home having served notice on her, he was “assuming that you will plot a course through this to keep Mrs Davies where she is”.  

Though no legal judgement was given, I learnt a lot – about how the law can often hinder, not help, all the parties concerned; about how online hearings can bring advantages to everyone, not only to observers; and most of all about how essential humanity is to the Court of Protection, and to justice as a whole.

Evie Robson is a Year 12 student studying English Literature, French, Maths and Further Maths at Whitley Bay High School. She has just set up a new Twitter account and would love followers to network with @evie275


[1] Thank you to Celia Kitzinger not only for filling me in about what happened at the hearing on 8th March 2021, but also for contributing relevant background information and the quotes from the position statements (which the court had sent to her but not to me).  I’ve appreciated her support throughout the process of learning about the Court of Protection.

Thank you to Dr John Davies who supplied the lovely photograph of himself and Michelle before her stroke.

3 thoughts on “Right to Family Life in a Care Home during a Pandemic: Michelle Davies part 2

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