Is Britain’s Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards regime, intended to protect people receiving state care in care homes, hospitals and supported living schemes, turning into an expensive legalistic shambles as a result of a controversial human rights case in the UK Supreme Court? The case, Cheshire West ( UKSC 19 ), was intended to deal with a very real problem: that local authority packages of care for people who lack mental capacity may constitute a breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to liberty) – even though they are put in place in the interests of the disabled person and even if they are living in a family home. But a couple of bizarre recent cases in the lower courts suggest there is a real problem.
Critics of the Supreme Court position on Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) talk of “gilded cages” and argue that human rights should not intervene too rigidly in the discretion of social workers acting in the best interests of clients lacking capacity. Nevertheless, to have no protections in place or to deny them to people without capacity would clearly be wrong and specifically a breach of Article 5 and Article 14 (“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination”.) The Supreme Court came up with a new definition of deprivation of liberty:
“The person is under continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave, and the person lacks capacity to consent to these arrangements.”
Compliance or even agreement by the person involved did not prevent the arrangements being a deprivation of liberty. It followsed from this that social services staff had to put care plans under more intense review and particularly that social services departments could not authorise their own social workers’ schemes when they involve domestic supported living arrangments or complex cases – which require the sanction of the Court of Protection. (Note on the judgment here) Once a court has found deprivation of liberty, a regime of expensive legal safeguards must be put in place with oversight by the courts. This is the real issue of controversy as far as local authorities are concerned.