Six Month Pilot Scheme Starts This Month
Members of the public and the media will now be allowed to attend Court of Protection cases affecting vulnerable people when a six month pilot scheme begins later this month.
Expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have praised a decision that will lead to ‘greater transparency’ but warned that vulnerable people involved in the cases must be protected and respected by the media.
Starting in January the ‘transparency pilot’ affects all Court of Protection hearings across county courts in England and Wales.
The specialist court makes decisions on the welfare and affairs of those who lack the capacity to do so themselves. These cases involve a wide range of decisions, from whether an individual should move into a care home to challenges around how someone’s money is being handled by the person chosen to look after it.
Previously most Court of Protection cases were heard before only those directly involved but the new pilot will change this.
Around 100 judges have been issued with a note from Mr Justice Charles, the vice-president of the Court of Protection, saying that the current default position of private court hearings must be reversed unless there is a valid reason, on an individual basis, not to.
The judge accepts that there may be tensions with families trying to protect the patients’ anonymity and said that “If the pilot promotes lazy irresponsible reporting or very intrusive actions, such as doorstepping, that will clearly be a factor to be taken into account in seeing whether we alter the arrangements.”
National Law firm Irwin Mitchell is the the largest provider of Court of Protection Services in the country and deal with these cases on a regular basis.
Julia Lomas, National Head of the Court of Protection team in Irwin Mitchell, has welcomed the pilot but warned that the vulnerable people in these cases must be protected and respected by the media.
“This decision has been a long time coming and we will watch the outcome of the pilot scheme with interest. It follows on from the opening up of family courts in 2009 to enable accredited media to attend which although contentious at the time is now viewed as a positive step.
“The pilot should give attendees a wider understanding of the Court of Protection’s work, offer greater transparency and help explain how the verdicts were reached in these cases.
“However, as Mr Justice Charles has said, its success will largely depend upon the responsible (or otherwise) actions of the press when reporting some of the more public interest cases often involving quite shocking facts.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that these cases usually involve vulnerable people who will largely be unable to defend their privacy against an over intrusive press.“
Julia Lomas - Partner