High Court: council wrongly deprived autistic man of liberty

A council breached a 21-year-old autistic man's human rights by refusing to allow him to be placed in the care of his father, the High Court has ruled.

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A council breached a 21-year-old autistic man’s human rights by refusing to allow him to be placed in the care of his father, the Court of Protection has ruled.

The court ruled that Hillingdon Council deprived Steven Neary of his human rights by incorrectly applying the deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS) under the Mental Capacity Act.

For nearly a year, Neary was forced to live at a support unit in Hillingdon, while the council ignored pleas from his father for him to be returned home.

The court ruled that his right to a family life and his right to liberty under the European Convention of Human Rights had been breached.

Today, a tearful Mark Neary, Steven’s father, said he felt vindicated by the decision.

When asked if he could forgive the actions of the council he said: “I don’t know. I still need the council’s input for Steven’s care package, we’ll see what the future holds.”

Steven was sent to a residential care facility to give his father respite from caring for him in Decmeber 2009. He was then kept there by the council until December 2010 when the court ruled he should be sent home.

Initially, the council misled Neary senior by pursuing a transition package aimed at preparing Steven to go home, despite professionals having already decided this was inappropriate.

The council issued four successive authorisations under the deprivation of liberty safeguards to keep Steven in residential care.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said the authorisations by the council were flawed because they contained little independent assessment and confused the council’s dual roles of requester and authoriser of the deprivation of liberty decision.

“No attempt was made at the outset to carry out a genuinely balanced best-interest assessment, nor was one attempted subsequently,” he said.

“The fact that the council believed that it was acting for the best during that year is neither here nor there. It acted as if it had the right to make decisions about Steven, and by a combination of turning a deaf ear and force majeure, it tried to wear down Mr Neary’s resistance, stretching its relationship with him almost to breaking point.

“The council failed to activate the statutory safeguards that exist to prevent situations like this arising,” he added.

Though he acknowledged that the care Steven Neary received had been good and the social workers involved had acted in what they felt was his best interests, the judge criticised the clarity of decision-making by the council. He said, after interviewing multiple witnesses, that it was nearly impossible to establish who had responsibility for making decisions about Neary’s care.

Hillingdon Council has apologised for its handling of the case.

Linda Sanders, director of social care at Hillingdon, said: “It is clear that there have been times when we have let both of them down.

“Cases such as Steven’s are hugely complex and we always have to carefully balance what we think is right for an individual with the wider issues such as the safety of the public,” she said.

Both Neary and Sanders agreed that the extraordinarily complicated DoLS system needed to be simplified. “I’m not a legal expert,” said Sanders, “but I do think that some further clarifying is required.”

The deprivation of liberty safeguards were brought in after a hospital was found to have breached the human rights of an autistic man, known as HL, by detaining him in care in 1997 without safeguards.

HL’s carers, who have since campaigned on the issue, said Steven Neary’s was “not an isolated case”, and the safeguards were being applied wrongly by a number of local authorities.

“There’s an appalling level of training in the DoLS [within local authorities],” they said.

This is the first time the media has been able to report on a case concerning the Court of Potection.

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Deprivation of liberty: ‘I fear more unnecessary detentions’

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