Prosecutions double for abuse or neglect of people who lack capacity

Number of care workers or carers charged with offences under Mental Capacity Act 2005 reached all-time high in 2013-14

Priced out of justice. Photo: REX Features

The number of prosecutions of care staff and family carers for abuse or neglect of adults lacking mental capacity more than doubled last year, figures show.

In 2013-14, 349 charges were made and reached a first magistrates’ court hearing in England and Wales in relation to the offences of carer ill-treatment or wilful neglect under section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA), up from 168 in 2012-13.

This the highest number since the act’s introduction. The offence applies to people who care for a person who lacks capacity and covers both paid staff and informal carers.

In addition, six charges were made against people given lasting power of attorney to manage affairs of people who lack capacity to do so, up from one in 2012-13.

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There were 47 prosecutions in relation to ill-treatment or neglect under section 127 of the Mental Health Act 1983, down from 57 in 2012-13. This offence applies to care home or hospital staff accused of abusing or neglecting a person being treated for a mental health problem or those appointed as guardians for people with significant mental health problems.

The figures were obtained from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by Dave Sheppard, a former social worker who runs the MHA and MCA Law training service.

It is not possible to know how many relevant offences took place that went unprosecuted. However, in 2013-14, local authorities opened 104,050 safeguarding referrals and prior research has suggested that she number of prosecutions for offences is relatively low.

The figures come with the government legislating to introduce new offences of ill-treatment or neglect of adults receiving health and social care services by staff or care providers, through the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. This would apply to victims regardless of their mental health or capacity.

Action on Elder Abuse chief executive Gary FitzGerald suggested the hike in prosecutions under section 44 of the MCA may be the result of heightened awareness, triggered by the proposals for the new offences.

But he warned: “This data does not reflect successful prosecutions, and we know that the court system has been notoriously poor at convicting, and then adequately sentencing, perpetrators. There have been too many instances of suspended sentences, or community service, for quite appalling crimes.”

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