Not a month passes, it seems, without a newspaper headline proclaiming ‘secrecy’ in the Court of Protection or the Family Courts. Sir James Munby – the new President of the Family Division and the Court of Protection – announces the first in what looks set to be a whole series of major transparency reforms. Is that news? Apparently not.
One of the most important things about the House of Lords Committee on the Mental Capacity Act is that it offers a rare opportunity for people to have input into parliamentary scrutiny of a law that will affect the personal and working lives of millions of people in this country. It also offers an almost unique opportunity for those with first hand experience of the Court of Protection to tell their stories without falling into contempt of court. Yet the media, it seems, are only interested in these stories when they get to control the narrative. Otherwise, surely they would be doing something useful, like publicising this opportunity so that real people, and not just the kind of geeks who stumble upon this blog, actually know about this opportunity to offer some feedback on this law. It may not be as glamorous as Leveson, but the chances of the Mental Capacity Act affecting the lives of ordinary people are a lot higher than your phone being hacked. And the consequences for those individuals are potentially much more drastic (validity of a marriage? live with your family or in a care home? detention? capacity to consent to sex? the right to refuse medical treatments? the right to life…?).
But I bet you, dear readers, that they will pick up on this case, when Mr C appeals against his committal to prison by the Court of Protection for flouting its orders. Because why would you bother to cover evidence recently heard in the House of Lords that the Mental Capacity Act is frequently flouted, that there are serious, serious concerns about the unlawful deprivation of liberty of thousands of people whom we mightly aptly describe (after Margaret Flynn) as ‘scandalously silenced’, when you could cover the protestations of a single noisy man?
Anyway, perhaps whilst they are reporting Mr C’s concerns, they might think of publicising the Committee’s call for evidence whilst they’re at it. It’s just a thought.
– Rant ends –
Ps. If you are a journalist and you are wondering what this Committee is all about, here’s why it was set up, and here’s a digest of the first evidence session (government officials), the second (legal experts, Law Society, and Liberty – who called for an inquiry), the third (evidence from those who campaigned for the Mental Capacity Act, and experts involved in the Winterbourne View Scandal and the CIPOLD study). The fourth evidence session was today and heard from major charities like Mencap, Mind, the Alzheimer’s Society, the Down Syndrome Association, the National Autistic Society and Headway – I’ll post a digest once the transcript is published. And you might also be interested to learn that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced that it will be conducting its own inquiry into a framework for detention under the Mental Capacity Act called the deprivation of liberty safeguards.
[Update 23/07/13: Apparently Munby LJ’s transparency announcements are news after all for the Daily Mail (although they’re still wrong about the Maddocks case – that transcript was published last year on MHLO), and the Telegraph and the Indy have covered a Court of Protection case about selling a Pissarro painting to pay for a person’s care bills. But still no coverage of the House of Lords Select Committee…]