Office of the Public Guardian

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:16 am on 19th July 2011.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Justice) (Prisons and Probation) 11:16 am, 19th July 2011

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Dobbin.

May I start by offering Kevin Brennan my apologies for not being the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mr Djanogly, in whose brief the Office of the Public Guardian directly sits? However, as we speak my hon. Friend is debating amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill upstairs in Committee. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be happy to make do with me—well, he will have to make do with me.

As I said to the hon. Gentleman privately last week before this debate, I myself have had some unhappy constituency cases in the past 14 years of people who have fallen into the clutches of state-overseen administration of the affairs of a loved one. We have heard about another example of that from Duncan Hames. If one finds oneself in circumstances where professional administrators are taking a very substantial sum out of the case, one can then see the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce parallel that was adduced by the hon. Gentleman coming to fruition awfully for individual constituents. However, I do not think that that is actually the case here, because obviously the deputy at hand is not a professional administrator. She is a relative of one of the parties, which in cases such as this one is more common than the appointment of professional administrators.

At the beginning of my response to this debate, I want to say that the work of the Public Guardian and his role in safeguarding the interests of people who lack capacity is very important, and that it is entirely right and proper that we should consider the effective functioning of the Office of the Public Guardian and how well it is able to support the Public Guardian in fulfilling his statutory duties. However, I also want to say at the outset that I am not entirely clear whether the particular aspects of this case offer the best evidence to test how effectively the Office of the Public Guardian is operating or indeed to show up a particular fault on behalf of the office. It appears to me that the issues are essentially private matters, which could and should have been resolved by the parties themselves rather than with significant intervention by the state, in the form of the Office of the Public Guardian. I will come back to the individual cases that have been mentioned in the debate in the latter half of my remarks.

Let me provide some context by explaining the role of the Public Guardian, because there is a degree of misunderstanding about what precisely are the duties and responsibilities of the Office of the Public Guardian, and that gets to the heart of the case that the hon. Gentleman has discussed.

The statutory role of the Public Guardian was created by the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Among other things, he is responsible for maintaining a register of deputies appointed by the courts; supervising such deputies on an ongoing basis; and investigating any concerns raised with him about a deputy’s potential misconduct or abuse. I want to make it clear that the Public Guardian himself does not have any role in managing the affairs of a person lacking capacity and nor does he have powers to step in and take over the management of a person’s affairs if a deputy is deemed to be unable or unwilling to manage those affairs. Furthermore, it is not within the jurisdiction of the Public Guardian to remove a deputy once appointed, or to place limits on the way in which a deputy exercises his or her powers.