Naughty, naughty – breaching orders in the Court of Protection
Jun 6 2024
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This case will be of interest to commissioners, providers and care co-ordinators because it was a highly unusual case in which the court was asked to approve a settlement by the Local Authority to the Claimant, who had Downs Syndrome. The claim for damages arose after the Local Authority assessed the Claimant as lacking capacity to consent to sexual relations with his wife and that such relations could only be continued once he had undertaken a course of sex education.
CH v A Metropolitan Council  EWCOP 12
The matter was an application on behalf of the Claimant for approval of a proposed settlement of his claim against a Local Authority. In substance, the claim was for damages pursuant to the Human Rights Act 1998, however, the claim arose out of proceedings in the Court of Protection.
The Claimant was a protected party (a declaration having been made that he lacked capacity to litigate); under CPR 21.10, where a party is a protected party any proposed settlement requires the approval of the Court.
The Court of Protection proceedings were in relation to the Claimant's capacity to consent to sexual relations; they ended with a declaration that the Claimant had capacity to consent to this. In the intervening period between the Claimant being assessed as lacking capacity and being declared to have capacity his partner was informed by the Local Authority to abstain from sexual intercourse with the Claimant; she moved into a separate bedroom of the home in which they both lived and significantly reduced any physical expressions of affection towards him so as not 'to lead him on', resulting in a period of abstinence for over 2 years.
A letter before action was then sent to the Local Authority on behalf of the Claimant alleging a breach of the Claimant's article 8 rights. The essence of the claim was the delay of not less than 12 months of the Local Authority implementing an advised programme of sex education following their assessment that he lacked capacity to consent to sexual relations.
The Local Authority made a settlement offer which included (in addition to paying the Claimant's costs) the Local Authority making a formal apology to the Claimant for the delay from January 2015 to June 2016 in providing him with the sex education to which he was entitled and paying him the sum of £10,000 as a result of the delay. The Court concluded that the proposed settlement offer was in the Claimant's best interests and authorised the Official Solicitor (as the Claimant's litigation friend) to accept the offer on behalf of the Claimant.
CH is 38 and was born suffering from Downs Syndrome and has an associated learning difficulty. In 2010, he married WH and they have lived together since then in CH's parent's home. They enjoyed normal conjugal relations until 27 March 2015.
The relevant chronology:
The case was unusual and somewhat unique with regard to the issues at play (in relation to capacity to consent to sexual relations) being applied to a settled, monogamous and exclusive married relationship.
Sir Mark Hedley commented that in the rare cases which the Courts have had to make declarations of incapacity to consent to sexual relations, they have generally been cases of restraining sexual disinhibition to protect from abuse or the serious likelihood of abuse. He said, however, that logically the question of capacity must apply also to married relations and that the criminal law makes no distinction between settled relations and sexual disinhibition or indeed between sexual relations within or outside marriage. He highlighted that many would think that no couple should have had to undergo a highly intrusive move upon their personal privacy yet he reiterated that such a move was (in its essentials) entirely lawful and properly motivated. He commented that, perhaps, it was part of the inevitable price that must be paid to have a regime of effective safeguarding.
The essence of this claim was the delay in the Local Authority implementing the advised programme of sexual education for CH. This was the period between 27 March 2015, when conjugal relations were required to cease (although the lack of capacity had been established in January 2015) and the start of CH's first sexual education programme on 27 June 2016. Given that the Local Authority would have needed some time to set up the programme, the actionable delay over all was one of not less than 12 months.
With regard to the appropriate quantum of damages for CH's deprivation (for at least 12 months) of normal conjugal relations with WH, Sir Mark Hedley commented that the impact at the time must have been profound not only for the loss of sexual relations but for two further matters peculiar to CH:
This case summary was written by Toby de Mellow, Solicitor.
Please contact Toby de Mellow if you wish to discuss this case or any related topics further.