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Schedule to be inserted as Schedule AA1 to the Mental Capacity Act 2005

Part of Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 22nd January 2019.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care) 9:25 am, 22nd January 2019

I beg to move amendment 45, in schedule 1, page 19, line 34, at end insert—

“(2) In varying an authorisation, the responsible body may also consider—

(a) whether the cared-for person’s capacity is likely to fluctuate, and

(b) whether any restrictions imposed are necessary to prevent harm to the cared-for person and proportionate to the likelihood of that harm, and are likely to continue to be necessary for the duration of the authorisation.”

This amendment enhances safeguards around the variation of conditions by the responsible body. It indicates that the responsible body should consider whether the person’s capacity may fluctuate, and whether the restrictions which are proposed should be in place for the duration of the authorisation.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship again, Mr Austin. At least we do not have a boiling hot room to contend with.

The amendment deals with the way fluctuating conditions are addressed under the liberty protection safeguards system. The concept of fluctuating capacity is not expressly addressed or provided for in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, including the deprivation of liberty safeguards. The Mental Capacity Act code of practice recognises the steps that should be taken to support a person with fluctuating capacity to take their own decisions—choosing the time of day at which they are most alert, for instance. However, it does not indicate what should happen where an assessment is required of a person’s ability to make decisions on an ongoing basis about a particular matter. As such, the Law Commission did not consult on fluctuating capacity. However, when it launched its consultation, it received a large number of submissions on the topic.

It is clear that individuals with fluctuating capacity represent a major challenge under the current system. That is unsurprising, as capacity to consent is not a black and white issue. Everyone has varying capacity from day to day and from issue to issue. It is not reasonable to categorise people as entirely having or lacking capacity in all cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury gave an example of how that can go wrong in practice.

Our amendment 32 would have required an assessment to be made of whether a cared-for person’s capacity was likely to fluctuate. That would have laid the ground for our amendment 45, which would allow the responsible body to take account of fluctuating conditions in varying an authorisation.

Under the current system, a deprivation of liberty safeguard must be terminated if a person regains the capacity to consent; the Mental Capacity Act makes no mention of what should happen if a person is likely to regain capacity only for a short period. That is not changed in the Bill. Under paragraph 26 of new schedule AA1, the authorisation will end if

“the responsible body believes or ought reasonably to suspect that any of the authorisation conditions are not met.”

That includes the person regaining capacity for any length of time.

There are two ways the issue can be dealt with. The first is that a new authorisation will have to be sought every time someone regains and then loses capacity, but that would dramatically increase the number of applications made. It would place more pressure on approved mental capacity professionals and on the cared-for person, who would be undergoing regular identical assessments. I understand that one aim of the Bill, as we have discussed, is to reduce the backlog of applications for deprivation of liberty. Requiring regular repeated applications for the same individual would not help to achieve that.

The second outcome is that the liberty protection safeguards will not be used properly. For example, in the case of older people with dementia whose condition fluctuates, such assessment might need to be hourly. It would simply not be practical to reapply for an authorisation every time they lost the capacity to consent. A person cannot give advance consent to be deprived of their liberty, so either they will be inappropriately deprived of their liberty through a blanket application or they will not receive the safeguards in the system because no application will ever be made. I reiterate that it does not matter, under the current system, whether a person is perfectly happy with arrangements when they have capacity. The moment that they no longer have capacity to consent, that consent is invalid. They cannot consent to any future arrangements.

Both outcomes leave responsible bodies potentially liable for breaching people’s rights under article 5 of the European convention on human rights. The Law Commission report states:

“it is not acceptable for the legislative framework simply to ignore fluctuating capacity. That exposes health and social care professionals and those authorising a deprivation of liberty to significant legal risk. It is therefore vital that the Liberty Protection Safeguards provide for fluctuating capacity expressly.”

However, the Bill the Government have brought forward makes no provision for fluctuating capacity. Our amendment is aimed at addressing that.

Amendment 45 would allow the responsible body to consider whether the arrangements it is authorising need to be in place for the entire duration of the authorisation it is granting. That would allow authorisations to be granted with specific provision for the arrangements to be suspended while a person has regained capacity. We will return later to what deprivation of liberty means, but that is relevant here. It may be that while someone has capacity, they are free to come and go as they please, with no supervision. But when they do not have capacity, they must be accompanied at all times for their own safety. There is no need for arrangements to require that they be accompanied at all times, regardless of their capacity. Instead, it should depend on their condition on a given day.

This comes back to the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. In it, he called for arrangements to be authorised only if there were no less restrictive alternatives available. If care providers treat capacity as something that, once lost, remains lost, people will inevitably be subject to unnecessarily restrictive arrangements—not all the time, but for the periods when they have regained capacity. That approach also fails to recognise that people’s capacity can vary without crossing the legal line in the sand. There will be days when someone with dementia can, with a certain amount of support, make the decision that they want to go out for coffee with an old friend, but it may be that, because they cannot make such a decision normally, there is no provision in the arrangements for them to go out. I am sure that the Minister would agree that we do not want over-zealous care managers, concerned about the danger of litigation, to end up unduly restricting a person’s liberty purely because they are treating capacity as a constant. Instead, we must establish a system that recognises the way capacity changes and what that can mean for the cared-for person, and that system should be described in the Bill.

The current system deals with fluctuating capacity through the code of practice. I will be concerned if the Minister says in her response that the Government mean that to continue to be the case. The Law Commission was clear, in its assessment of this legislation, that the code of practice was simply not an appropriate place to deal with this issue. I remind the Minister of the Law Commission’s comment that

“it is not acceptable for the legislative framework simply to ignore fluctuating capacity.”

Bringing individuals with fluctuating conditions within the scope of the Bill would not require them to be deprived of their liberty when that was not appropriate. An authorisation is not an order or injunction to detain the person, and professional discretion should of course be exercised—for example, as to when to take or not take steps to ensure that the person is not allowed to leave, or to bring about their return if they do leave.

Will the Minister cast her mind back to 14 March 2018, the day she published the Government’s response to the Law Commission review of the Mental Capacity Act 2005? On page 6 of the response, she accepted the Law Commission’s recommendations about fluctuating capacity. I should like her to clarify why she accepted them if she had no intention of taking on board the commission’s advice that they be contained in the statutory framework.

The amendment would require a consultation to be carried out before arrangements can be varied to account for fluctuating conditions. In some cases, where capacity fluctuates for short periods, that would be an onerous requirement, but it would also mean arrangements could not be made more restrictive when that might not be appropriate. The amendment does not go as far as the Law Commission wanted to on this topic, so it could be seen as a compromise.

In its draft Bill, the Law Commission set out provision for people to consent in advance of being deprived of their liberty. That would have meant that a cohort of people with degenerative conditions, who foresaw the requirement to deprive them of their liberty, would be removed from the system altogether. The Law Commission also said that

“the giving of consent should generally be regarded as an ongoing state of mind which is required in order for a confinement not to amount to a deprivation of liberty. There will be some who will lack capacity to give such consent for such a substantial proportion of the period covered by the proposed authorisation, and regain it for such brief periods, that it is right to regard them as, overall, lacking capacity to give or withhold consent to the arrangements.”

That is in line with the provisions in the current code of practice. It would codify them in statute, ensuring that the group in question would be adequately covered by the liberty protection safeguards. I do not understand why the Government have not yet taken those suggestions on board. They would ensure that people whose conditions fluctuate are properly dealt with by the new liberty protection safeguards, and close up one of the most glaring holes in the current Act. It seems clear that detaining someone while they have capacity would, at the moment, be a breach of the Act. We need real amendments to the Bill to make sense of the system, rather than yet more promises about a code of practice that we have not yet seen. I acknowledge that the Minister has sent us a list of its contents—but that is not the code of practice.