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Local authority’s deprivation of liberty claim rejected

The Court of Protection has rejected a local authority’s claim that a 93 year-old woman was ‘deprived of her liberty’.

In W City Council v Mrs L, the woman at the centre of the case suffered from a severe case of Alzheimer’s disease. She had been widowed in 1976 and had lived in her home for the past 39 years. Since her diagnosis in 2004, she had been looked after by various family members.

The woman, identified only as ‘Mrs L’ in the judgment, fell twice in 2013. The first time she injured her hip, the second time she was not hurt but became disorientated and walked “away from her home very unsuitably clothed into the local town”.

In response, her family installed a fence around her previously open garden with a latched gate, a new lock for her front door, and sensors which would alert the family if she tried to leave the property at night.

The local authority claimed these measures constituted a ‘deprivation of Mrs L’s liberty’, despite her apparent “happiness and lack of objection to being where she is”. Their argument was that a physical barrier was not necessary to keep her safe.

When someone is unable to make decisions for themselves, through illness or disability, arrangements are made on their behalf. However, a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights stated that sometimes such measures can violate Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This gives every person the “right to liberty and security of person”. Should arrangements made on someone’s behalf violate Article 5, this constitutes a ‘deprivation of liberty’.

A lawyer representing the family argued that there was “in reality no compulsion or constraint going on” with the arrangements. He added that this was “simply a case of an old lady who wishes to remain in her own home, and for whom the minimum restrictions have been put in place to keep her safe”.

Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Justice Bodey said that the circumstances were unusual as such claims are more commonly made when a local authority is accused of infringing a person’s rights.

The judge ruled that there was no deprivation of the woman’s liberty. While the actions taken by the family constituted “restrictions on Mrs L’s liberty, they do not quite cross the line to being a deprivation of it”, he said.

To read the full judgment, click here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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