A young disabled man had his human rights breached by his local council after it refused to release him from respite care that was only supposed to last for a few days, a court has ruled.
Hillingdon Council in London kept Steven Neary – who has autism, learning difficulties and high support needs – in care for nearly a year, against his father’s wishes.
The Court of Protection ruled that the council had breached Neary’s human rights by misusing the Mental Capacity Act’s Deprivation of Liberty safeguards.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said the council had turned the spirit of the act “on its head”, with “a code designed to protect the liberty of vulnerable people being used instead as an instrument of confinement”.
The court ruled that the council had unlawfully deprived Steven Neary of his liberty and breached his right to respect for his family life, under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said he was “necessarily critical” of decisions taken by the council during 2010 – which Neary spent in a council-managed support unit – but accepted that during that year he had received “committed care”.
But he said the council “acted as if it had the right to make decisions about Steven, and… tried to wear down [his father’s]resistance, stretching its relationship with him almost to breaking point”.
And he said that if the council’s plans had succeeded, Steven Neary might have “faced a life in public care that he did not want and does not need”.
Neary returned to his father’s care last December as a result of a ruling by another judge.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission – which “intervened” in the court case – welcomed the ruling as a “significant victory for the human rights of disabled people and their carers”.
John Wadham, the EHRC’s group director legal, said the commission had intervened because the council was “failing to uphold Steven’s human rights”.
He said: “He, like everyone else, has a right to personal freedom and a family life and the state should not take away this without good reason.
“Public bodies – such as care providers and hospitals – must pay better attention to the human rights of people in their care if they are to protect vulnerable adults and improve service standards.”
The council apologised to Steven Neary and his father Mark and said it had “let both of them down”.
Linda Sanders, the council’s director of social care, said: “As the judge has said in his findings, at all times my staff were genuinely committed to ensuring that we did the right thing for Stephen and had his best interests at heart.”
She said the council’s failings were “collective errors of judgement” and not the result of failures by individual staff members.
Sanders said the council had made “significant changes relevant to this case” and was reviewing its training for staff who “deal with the complex issues relating to the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty safeguards”.
9 June 2011