Happy new year, and thank you

The Small Places blog is a year old this month, and a year ago if anyone had told me that the number of readers would exceed double digits I would have been very surprised. I only started the blog because my friends’ and family’s eyes started to glaze over every time I mentioned the deprivation of liberty safeguards, but I needed an outlet for all the things I’d found out, or that annoyed me. I’m still a little astonished (and delighted) that anyone else shares my interest in this obscure area of law… In this the final year of my PhD, I’m not sure I’ll be able to write with the same frequency as I did in 2011, but I’ll try to post what I can.
One of the things I’ve noticed as a blogger is that the harder I find a post to write, the more it requires me to delve into the textbooks, case law, rules and regulations, the more dispassionate and considered it is… the fewer people read it. In short, the bits that fit the traditional ‘academic’ mould are the least popular, whilst posts I’ve written in the heat of the moment (a rant onthe decision in McDonald v Kensington and Chelsea, on Winterbourne View) are really popular. As are the posts where I’ve been digging around with the Freedom of Information Act (on the malfunctioning of the deprivation of libertysafeguards appeal mechanism, on the lack of transparency in personalbudgets), which will – hopefully – make it into an academic publication of some form eventually.
Regular readers will notice that this blog usually violates one of the fundamental rules of blogging: keep it short. And whilst my lengthier posts may repel some readers, on the whole there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between length and popularity over here at the Small Places. So it shouldn’t be a problem that my next post – comparing the DoLS and guardianship – is turning into a monster… 
As I said, I only started the blog so I could find more willing audiences to bore than my friends and family. But the rewards of blogging have been far greater than I could have hoped. Initially I used to check the hit counter to see if anyone was out there, but I rarely bother now. The biggest reward, for me, has been the responses I’ve had from readers. Through comments published here on the blog, through conversations on Twitter (@thesmallplaces), through emails, phone calls, even ‘real life’ encounters sometimes, I’ve learned more than I could ever have hoped from you. I am really delighted when Jonathan corrects my terminology, when Carl challenges my (perhaps excessive) faith in human rights frameworks to remedy all ills, when the fantastic staff at CQC help improve my accuracy and understanding with corrections, comments and conversations. I’ve been chuffed to bits to be invited to write for publications that I love to read: the UK Human Rights Blog, Anna Raccoon, Community Care, Local Government Lawyer, the 39 Essex St Court of Protection Newsletter and the Guardian. I won’t embarrass anyone by mentioning their name, but I’m indebted to a lot of people for helping me think more deeply about the topics I post on here.
All of which suggests to me that you are impassioned people, not put off by lengthy posts and the odd legal tangle, but who don’t enjoy academic legal pernicketyness for its own sake. Those of you I have met are passionate about how we can safeguard the rights of court users in an age of austerity, reduce collateral damage from poorly developed policy and legal frameworks, manage the difficult balance between transparency and privacy, and frustrated by the lack of political will to address serious problems in social care. Perhaps like me you are also kept awake at night by the complex moral, political and practical issues raised by Article 12 CRPD, or cases like W v M. And perhaps you’ve also been cheered by some of the same highs as me this year – powerful rulings like Neary v Hillingdon, A London Local Authority v JH& Anor. This year, I look forward to being able to write about the forthcoming ruling in Stanev v Bulgaria from the European Court of Human Rights, more on issues around Article 12 CRPD and the Mental Capacity Act, more about how regulation and advocacy can promote human rights outside formal legal channels, and perhaps – just perhaps – there are the beginnings of signs that the government may consider some of the problems with the deprivation of liberty safeguards. Thank you very much for reading, and happy new year.
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