This case will be of interest to local authorities, commissioners, providers and safeguarding teams. It reminds those caring for incapacitous adults to be vigilant for patterns of behaviour that may amount to controlling and coercive behaviour and the steps they can take to cease abusive contact.

In this case Hayden J considered an application in relation to LW’s capacity to decide where she should live, the nature and extent of the care she required and whether she should continue to have contact with her partner, who the Court found to be abusive towards her. Hayden J agreed with the professionals that LW lacked the capacity to take these interrelated decisions and that it was in her best interests to cease contact with her partner and progress the planning process for a return home.

Practical Impact

Those caring for vulnerable adults should:

  • Ensure that they are aware of the insidious nature of controlling and coercive behaviour and understand that the cumulative impact of this behaviour is crucial to effective safeguarding.
    • At the end of his judgment Hayden J draws on statutory guidance and sets out a list of paradigm behaviour in controlling and coercive relationships, emphasising those which are seen with some frequency by those concerned with the welfare or vulnerable adults.
  • Be mindful that manipulative abusers may extend their control to professionals caring for vulnerable adults.
  • Co-operate with others involved in the care of vulnerable adults to enable effective assessments of patterns of behaviour that provide a clear picture of the nature of an abusive relationship.
  • Where there are concerns that an individual is in a controlling and coercive relationship and lacks the capacity to decide whether to continue contact with their partner, capacity assessment and best interest considerations should be carried out and a timely application to the Court of Protection may be necessary.

For further information about this case, please contact Claire Leonard, Associate.

You can read the full case summary below.


A County Council v LW and another [2020] EWCOP 50

Relevant Topics

  • Mental Capacity Act 2005
  • Controlling and coercive behaviour
  • Safeguarding


Before Mr Justice Hayden

LW is a 60 year old lady who has been living at the G Unit in Kent for the last 3 years.

At the time of her admission in July 2017 she was detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 and was in a truly parlous condition. She was emaciated, her personal hygiene was neglected, she had been acting disinhibitedly and was expressing suicidal thoughts. She has improved significantly since then and her treating team were unanimously of the view that her current placement was not the best place for her.

She has a history of bi-polar disorder and in-patient admissions but has managed to live independently for the most of her life. Hayden J identified the central challenge to her life as the relationship with a man, known as MG. He stated that ‘even the most cursory analysis of the extensive evidence available points clearly to this relationship as being abusive, exploitative, coercive and wholly inimical to LW’s welfare’.  It became clear that she was so emaciated at the time of admission because MG had restricted her food intake. The Court found that MG controlled LW with his “own distorted perceptions on religion”; that he regularly made her say prayers at “extraordinary length”, that he made her smash her piano so she could no longer play, that he forbade her from wearing underwear and that he alienated her from her family. The Court concluded that MG has extended his control to the professionals involved in LW’s care; he writes the ‘script’ of what she should tell doctors and carers. Staff have been aware of this but have not felt able to intervene. The Court found that his controlling behaviour had continued via telephone in recent months.

MG has lived in LW’s home for approximately 4 and a half years and whilst she was in hospital her property had been neglected and fallen into disrepair. MG refused admission to the Local Authority to assess the property and has refused to meet them.

Whilst LW expressed a strong wish for the relationship to continue, her behaviour indicated that the relationship was stressful and disturbing to her. The Court found that on a rational and objective analysis she derived nothing from the relationship at all. 

The entire team surrounding LW was of the clear view that she would benefit very considerably from a total cessation of contact with MG. It was noted that in the past when contact had been severed, the consequence for LW was a marked and obvious improvement in her mental health and wellbeing.

Other Key Findings

  • Hayden J was entirely satisfied that LW was unable to understand her mental health needs and lacked capacity to take the interrelated decisions relating to contact with MG, where she should live and the nature and extent of the care she required.
  • He agreed entirely with the team caring for LW that she would benefit from a complete cessation of contact. The Judge noted the Official Solicitor’s observation, that if he were to permit LW to return to her flat with MG he would be ‘exposing her to a regime of insidious controlling and abusive behaviour which is both corrosive of her personal autonomy and entirely irreconcilable with her best interests.’ Indeed, whilst not a formal finding, the Judge was concerned that the relationship had been permitted to continue for so long.
  • The Local Authority would now liaise with the Property and Affairs Deputy to secure MG’s eviction from LW’s property.
  • There would be an 8 week interim period to support LW as she comes to terms with the absence of MG in her life to mitigate the risks to her mental health of ceasing contact. The order would permit the parties to return to court to submit a finalised care plan.

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We'd also like to set optional analytics cookies to help us improve it. We won't set optional cookies unless you enable them. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences. For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookies page.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We'd like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us to improve our website by collection and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone.
For more information on how these cookies work, please see our Cookies page.