A first experience of observing in the Court of Protection

By Georgina Baidoun, 30th June 2022

I had no intention of becoming an observer of any of the Court of Protection cases so admirably reported by others, although I read most of the reports on the Open Justice Court of Protection blog avidly and am fascinated by both the individual stories and the principles raised. 

But I found myself waiting for the next instalment of the case of the allegedly abusive wife whose husband (with dementia and Parkinson’s)  was in a care home. The local authority was asking the judge to rule that she must move out of “the matrimonial home”, so that her husband could move back and live there without her (“When P can’t go home to his “abusive” wife: Another ineffective hearing).

So, when I chanced to see Celia’s twitter post that the hearing (Case number COP13861341 before Mr Justice Francis on Monday 27th June 2022) was about to start, I couldn’t resist giving it a go. Without Celia’s instant replies to my calls for help, and the fact that the hearing was delayed, it wouldn’t have been possible but technically it went without a hitch.

Several things about the case intrigued me. The first was that the Court of Protection apparently had the right to order a wife to leave her marital home so that her husband could return to it. Celia explained that the Court of Protection Judge was also sitting as a High Court Judge in the Family Division. That made sense but was quite a surprise.

The second was what possible grounds could there be to order a wife to leave her marital home? It had been reported that there were children involved who had already been removed from the home and that the wife was accused of being abusive. I wanted to hear more about this, and the social worker was due to give evidence.

Also, I was intrigued by the wife. She apparently needed an interpreter to understand English. She also refused to engage a lawyer, even though the costs would have been paid by her husband through his Court of Protection Deputy for Property and Financial Affairs. And yet, by somehow not engaging with the court, seemingly because of various problems including lack of money for transport, she had managed to obtain more than one ‘stay of execution’. I sort of admired her for that!

But probably most of all, I was struck by what happens when someone whose English is limited and who  knows still less, presumably, of English law, marries and settles down here and then finds herself engaged with the authorities, in this case social workers and the courts (and no doubt others outside of this story). I’m not sure how aware we are generally of how different family law is in other countries, even countries as close to us as France (I am thinking of their inheritance law in particular). The wife in this case originated in the Far East (as we think of it!) and I can only imagine how different things are there.

Anyway, to some extent I was disappointed by today’s hearing as it turned out to be short and uncontested. The delayed start was caused not by the wife not turning up again, as I suspected, but by all the parties having at last met each other in person (previously the wife had attended only by phone with an interpreter on another phone!) and reached agreement. (She would move out of the house, but continue with contact by letter and phone and the situation would be reviewed in 3 months).

It was, nonetheless, an interesting experience to observe law in action.

And I can add a postscript.

After the hearing had ended and it had been agreed that the wife would vacate the family home and possibly return to her country of origin, almost everyone left the courtroom except the wife, her husband, still on screen sitting in his care home, and me (Celia too had gone). The wife remained for quite a while, looking at the screen, waving and eventually blowing kisses to her husband. I’m afraid I didn’t manage to see if he waved back but he certainly appeared to be smiling whenever I looked at him.

Georgina Baidoun, is a sometime Court of Protection Lay Deputy for Property and Financial Affairs. She tweets as @georgemkeynes

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