The Court of Protection has ruled that Hillingdon Council acted unlawfully in detaining a 21-year-old autistic man, Steven Neary, for almost a year against his wishes.
Steven’s father, Mark Neary, wanted to care for his son at home and waged a long battle against the Council’s decision to deprive his son of his liberty. Following the Court’s ruling, the director of social care for Hillingdon, Linda Sanders, apologised publicly for the Council’s errors of judgment.
Steven Neary was originally meant to spend only a few days in a ‘positive behaviour unit’ whilst his father recovered from flu in December 2009. However, staff at the unit raised concerns about Steven’s ‘challenging’ behaviour and repeatedly extended his stay. Mark Neary insisted that the reason for his son’s behaviour was the disruption caused by being in unfamiliar surroundings and that things would improve once he returned home. The Council was critical of Mr Neary and issued a Deprivation of Liberty Order with the intention of moving Steven under section to a facility miles away from the family home.
When he was informed of the Council’s intentions, Mark Neary decided to pursue a public campaign to draw attention to his son’s plight and to challenge the Council’s decision.
As early as February 2010, social workers at the Council had discussed the need for the dispute to be settled by the Court of Protection; however, an application to the Court was not made until October of that year. In December 2010, nearly a year after Steven first went to the behaviour unit, the Court granted an interim order ruling that he should be allowed to return home.
The Court has now ruled that Hillingdon Council acted unlawfully in detaining Steven. Its procedures had been wholly inadequate, with no balanced assessment as to whether he was in the right place. In the circumstances, keeping him away from home was a breach of his human rights.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson praised Mark Neary for his perseverance and warned councils not to misuse the powers granted to them under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 as ‘a means of getting their own way’.
Normally, cases involving people who do not have the ability to manage their own affairs are held in private. However, various newspapers applied to the Court, putting forward the argument that journalists should be allowed to attend the hearing, and report the details of the case, in the interest of fair and open justice. The Court granted permission on the ground that there was a ‘genuine public interest in the work of this court being understood’.