“whether Schedule AA1 applies to the arrangements” and insert
“any issue in relation to the application of Schedule AA1”.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this part of the Committee, Mr Pritchard. Amendment 18 may appear to be minor, but it could have significant consequences for the proposed system of liberty protection safeguards. The Bill removes the section of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that deals with court appeals for deprivation of liberty, and clause 3 proposes a new section in its place.
The Government have made few substantive changes to the power of the Court of Protection. We believe that this is a missed opportunity. The Law Commission said in its report:
“significant reforms should be made to the Court of Protection to ensure that it works for the people who apply to it.”
The fact that the Government have refused to consider this as part of the Bill is another sign, I am sorry to say, that this Bill is being rushed through. Rather than considering this issue in the round, they are simply seeking to reproduce the current deficient system. The people who are subject to the Mental Capacity Act deserve better, so when the Minister replies, can she reassure us that the Law Commission’s comments are being taken on board and that a full review of the Court of Protection will be forthcoming?
At the moment, the Bill gives the Court of Protection a limited set of powers. It can determine whether the liberty protection safeguards apply to the case; it can determine the length of authorisation; it can rule on the arrangements the authorisation relates to; and it can determine whether the authorisation conditions are met. So that hon. Members are clear on that final point, let me remind them what the authorisation conditions are. Paragraph 12 of schedule 1 reads:
“The authorisation conditions are that—
(a) the cared-for person lacks the capacity to consent to the arrangements,
(b) the cared-for person has a mental disorder, and
(c) the arrangements are necessary to prevent harm to the cared-for person and proportionate in relation to the likelihood and seriousness” of that harm. When the court is asked to rule on whether a liberty protection safeguard should have been granted, those are the only things that it can determine.
The court cannot determine whether a cared-for person should have been given access to an independent mental capacity advocate—we had a very full debate this morning about the role of advocates. It cannot determine whether the case should have been reviewed by an approved mental capacity professional. It cannot determine whether any of the assessors had a conflict of interest that should have precluded them from carrying out an assessment. It cannot determine whether the consultation has been properly carried out. It cannot determine whether the person was given the information that they should have been given. In short, it cannot determine whether any of the safeguards that we have discussed in this Committee were properly applied.
In some cases, the process will be every bit as important as the outcome, and I remind hon. Members of a case I mentioned previously. Ethel, an 85-year-old woman living in a care home, wanted to leave the care home and return to her own home. She was subject to a deprivation of liberty safeguard. With the help of an advocate, she appealed her case to the Court of Protection. Although the court ultimately ruled that Ethel should remain in the care home, the advocate found during the appeal process that the conditions placed on her authorisation had not been read and were not being applied until the Court of Protection made sure those conditions were attached to the authorisation. If the process is carried out improperly, it may be that less restrictive options for the person’s care are not considered. It may be that a strong objection from a close family member, which could have altered the decisions made, is not expressed.
These concerns are widely shared. The Law Society has supported this amendment, as has a wide range of stakeholders, including Mind and Learning Disability England. It is my hope that the Government did not intend to exclude all the vital areas that I have just discussed, but I simply cannot understand why we would not want to give the Court of Protection the widest possible remit in this case. The court is intended to be the final safeguard against deprivation of liberty being used incorrectly or inappropriately, and if we restrict the issues that it can rule on, we blunt its effectiveness. The Opposition do not want to hear, a year or two down the line, of cases in which the responsible body has clearly not followed the correct process but the courts find themselves unable to do anything about it. Our amendment is designed to avoid such a situation ever arising, and I hope the Government will accept it.
I understand that hon. Members want the Court of Protection to consider matters such as whether an IMCA is appointed or an AMCP is involved. That would mean that the court was considering procedural matters regarding the liberty protection safeguards process. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South has asked me about the review of the role of the Court of Protection; she will be aware that the Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing courts in the round, and that review will of course include the regionalisation of the Court of Protection. However, the Bill is clear that the pre-authorisation review must be completed by an approved mental capacity professional in cases in which an objection has been raised. That provides a clear route for arrangements to be considered if that is something the person wishes to happen.
Government amendment 9 is clear that, in independent hospital cases, an approved mental capacity professional must complete that review—that is a duty—and if an independent hospital as a responsible body fails to do that, it would be in clear breach of its responsibilities and could be subject to legal challenge.
With regard to IMCA appointments, the Bill introduces an effective presumption that an IMCA will be appointed by the responsible body if there is not an appropriate person in place, which ensures access to representation. With that in mind, I hope that I have provided reassurances that the system will be robust regarding IMCA appointments and access to AMCPs. I therefore hope that hon. Members are willing to withdraw the amendment.
As I said, the amendment seeks to clarify the role of the Court of Protection. It broadens the narrow set of responsibilities in the Bill, giving the court the explicit right to rule on any matter relating to the new liberty protection safeguards. It ensures that the process, as well as the outcome, of authorisations is covered by the court.
Clause 3 sets out that the Court of Protection can hear challenges in relation to liberty protection safeguard authorisations. The court already considers challenges under the current system, and the Law Commission recommended that it continue to do so under liberty protection safeguards, pending the outcome of a Government review.
In designing the new system, we put safeguards in place to ensure that arrangements would be considered fairly and independently. We know that most people want to avoid courts and tribunals if possible, so it is important that they can access protections without needing to go to the Court of Protection. However, it is also important to us that people who want to challenge their authorisations in court are able to do so, which is why the right to non-means-tested legal aid will be maintained under the liberty protection safeguards system. Cost will not be a barrier to a person’s ability to access the court.