Vulnerable people wait nine months for care decisions

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Oct 04, 2017
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The Court of Protection is now hearing more than 4,000 cases a year

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Crucial decisions about the care of people who are mentally incapacitated are taking up to nine months because of a significant rise in court workload, research shows.

The Court of Protection (CoP), which makes financial and welfare decisions for people who lack mental capacity, is now hearing more than 4,000 cases a year compared with the 200 that were anticipated when it was set up ten years ago.

Delays take between four and nine months for cases involving decisions on personal welfare, such as where people should live or how they should be cared for.

Julie Doughty, a lecturer in law at Cardiff University and a member of the research team, said that although the delays had improved slightly since 2013-14, it was still "a very lengthy time for a review of detention”.

Each case costs local authorities between £10,000 and £13,000, which could be a “chilling” deterrent to people bringing disputes before the court, says the report.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice showed that the median cost of a legal aid certificate in a case involving a decision over medical treatment was £7,672. For a non-medical case the cost was £20,874 and for a case involving deprivation of liberty it was £7,288.

Litigants funding their own court cases were likely to face “substantially higher” costs.

The researchers said: “The high public and private cost of welfare litigation in the CoP is a major barrier to accessing justice and is likely to have a significant chilling effect on bringing disputes and serious issues before the CoP.”

The research was based on two studies by researchers at Cardiff University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation into the work of the CoP since it was launched.

The researchers said that the jurisdiction had “changed beyond recognition” from that originally envisaged when the court was proposed during the 1990s. Whereas earlier cases mostly concerned serious medical treatment, now the most common cases involve where people should live, how they should be cared for, questions about relationships with individuals or whether the patient can consent to sex or marriage.

Medical treatment accounts for a small proportion of cases, with social care professionals and local authorities now the main users of the court. 

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