By Daniel Cloake, 24th September 2021
A man whose identity is protected by court order faces temporary removal from his home of 50 years to enable building work and medical treatment to be carried out.
I observed this attended (in-person) hearing (Case: 12014791 “JD -v- Ealing Council”) before the Senior Judge of the Court of Protection HHJ Carolyn Hilder at First Avenue House in London on 21st September 2021.
There wasn’t an introduction to the background of this case (which I say purely by way of observation and not as a criticism) so the issues were slow to become clear. The man concerned, known only as Mr JD, appeared unrepresented but came with his (as the Judge described her) “rather wonderful” niece.
It is understood that Mr JD lives in a house under the remit of Ealing Council. The court was told by counsel representing the Local Authority that a surveyor had attended the property on the morning of the hearing to carry out an inspection. Entry to the property had been refused by Mr JD who cited a lack of warning and a lack of time to tidy up. (A previous tidy-up to facilitate a visit by a doctor generated 100 bin bags of rubbish, we were told.)
HHJ Hilder read from the “rather serious” surveyor’s external report which, she said, described the property as “unfit for human habitation” and presented a “danger to the owner, neighbours and passing public”. These claims were described as “grossly exaggerated” by Mr JD.
We were told that at a recent round table meeting Mr JD had agreed to move out of the property into “safe and clean” temporary accommodation, a condition that once met would allow a date for a seemingly-urgent cataract operation to be set. Given the need for apparent extensive property repairs to be carried out, which we were told would take some 16 weeks, some consideration was given as to whether the operation and the building work should be carried out at the same time.
The niece had investigated the type of accommodation that might be suitable for Mr JD to move into. She told the court that finding a lease of less than 6 months was proving difficult, and that bed and breakfast or hotel accommodation might prove more cost-effective. Asked by the Judge what he would prefer, Mr JD replied that he didn’t know, stating “I’ve been there 50 years, I don’t know anywhere else”.
As a matter of “practical reality” the Judge declined to grant an immediate injunction to the council preventing Mr JD from returning to the property after the hearing as “I have to ask where will you sleep tonight…you have nowhere to go”. A suggestion made to Mr JD by his neighbour that he could sleep in the front garden of the property was not met with enthusiasm by the court.
We were told that the available evidence showed Mr JD lacked capacity to conduct these proceedings and also lacked capacity to make decisions about clearing and maintaining his property. The Judge considered the council’s position statement which suggested inviting the Official Solicitor to act as Mr JD’s litigation friend. Explaining that it was “likely to take a fortnight to get up and running”, she said, “We could potentially list this matter at that point so [Mr JD] is represented and all issues can be dealt with at that point.”
Addressing a concern that Mr JD would lose his voice in court, HHJ Hilder reassured him that the OS “would regard it a very important part of their job to represent what your wishes and feelings are, although it seems you do a pretty good job of that yourself”, before adding “I will always allow you to be present at the hearing and, if the Official Solicitor agrees, I will hear from you. I have never had an Official Solicitor tell their client to shut up”.
Listing the next hearing for the morning of October 25th 2021, HHJ Hilder explained that she was “a natural optimist. I’m hoping the next time we meet, with your niece’s help, you will have found somewhere to move in to. It’s sensible when you are out of the house for us to take further steps to make your house safe.“
A note about the Transparency Order
Non-parties were given a copy of the transparency order and asked to sign a register at reception. My home address would have been visible to others completing the form as only a single page was used to record all the details. As it transpired, I was the only non-party present and the only person to sign the register.
I was asked at the beginning of the hearing to confirm that not only had I received the transparency order but that I understood it as well.
The hearing was being held in public to allow “anyone who wants to, to come and keep an eye on how the courts are working”, the Judge explained to the court. Mr JD was reassured that his personal details wouldn’t end up in The Sun!
Daniel Cloake is a blogger and news gatherer with a keen interest in law and the justice system. This post was originally published on his own site, “The Mouse in the Courtroom” (where you can read his many other blog posts). He tweets @MouseInTheCourt