In this case, the Official Solicitor made an application to commit P’s relative, DG, to prison for contempt of court on the basis that DG had allegedly falsified a third party disclosure order in Court of Protection proceedings, which she used to obtain P’s medical records from an NHS Trust. DG was found to be in contempt of court and was sentenced to an immediate 12 month prison sentence.
This case not only reminds us of the severe consequences of breaching a court order or falsifying court documents but it is a cautionary reminder for commissioners, providers and care co-ordinators who receive third party disclosure orders to scrutinise these carefully before disclosing the information requested. The case also provides a good summary of the rules governing committal hearings in the Court of Protection.
Commissioners, providers and care co-ordinators should ensure that training is provided to persons who are responsible for processing information requests under third party disclosure orders, to help them identify a legitimate court order and support them to take steps to confirm the order with the court where there is any uncertainty.
Anyone found to be interfering with the due administration of justice in contempt of court by forging court orders puts themselves “at grave risk of an immediate and lengthy sentence of imprisonment.”
This case provides a good overview of the strict rules and processes that govern a committal application and hearing in the Court of Protection. In particular the committal application must be dealt with at a discrete hearing and the alleged contempt must be proved to a criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt).
For further information about this case, please contact Ruth Atkinson-Wilks.
You can read the full case summary below.
Case summary: P v Griffith  EWCOP 46 (02 October 2020)
- Third Party Disclosure Orders
- Breach of a Court Order
- Falsifying Court Documents
- Contempt of Court
- Committal Application and Hearing
Following a bilateral stroke which caused significant brain damage and cognitive impairment, P was residing in a specialist hospital. DG, a relative of P, initiated Court of Protection proceedings following a dispute that had arisen over P’s condition and prognosis, her treatment, residence and care and also whether P should be subject to a DNACPR notice.
During the course of proceedings, HHJ Hilder made four third party disclosure orders against different healthcare providers for disclosure of P’s health care records to P’s litigation friend, the Official Solicitor (OS). In addition DG applied for third party disclosure orders against two further healthcare providers (one of which was the relevant NHS Trust) for disclosure of P’s full medical file to her. The applications made by DG were dismissed by HHJ Hilder and orders were made recording this.
DG then approached the relevant NHS Trust directly, sending them an email attaching what purported to be a third party disclosure order for the disclosure of P’s medical records directly to DG. The purported order bore no court seal and contained none of the recitals that characterised the other third party disclosure order made by HH Hilder.
Acting in good faith on the purported third party disclosure order, the relevant NHS Trust disclosed P’s medical records to DG’s solicitors (which she had instructed between sending the order to the relevant NHS Trust and the disclosure being made).
The extent of DG’s actions only came to the court’s attention when further third party disclosure orders were requested by the OS, on behalf of P, which included a request to the relevant NHS Trust. When the relevant NHS Trust was contacted by the OS, it confirmed it had already disclosed records to DG’s solicitors.
Concerned with DG’s actions, the OS made an application for permission to make an application to commit DG under rule 21.15 of the Court of Protection Rules 2017 and this permission hearing took place in February 2020. Permission was granted and the final hearing was listed for September 2020 before Mr Justice MacDonald. DG did not attend this hearing so Mr Justice Macdonald took the decision to adjourn the final hearing for four weeks. DG failed to attend the re-listed hearing so Mr Justice MacDonald decided to proceed in her absence.
Mr Justice MacDonald held that to prove alleged contempt beyond reasonable doubt the applicant (the OS) must prove both the relevant act on the part of DG, namely the counterfeiting of the purported court order, but also an intention on her part to thereby interfere with or impede the administration of justice.
Mr Justice MacDonald held that he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the order sent by DG was forged by DG and that the evidence demonstrated that DG took this action with the intention of interfering with the due administration of justice.
Mr Justice MacDonald sentenced DG to an immediate imprisonment of 12 months stating that it would have been longer but for the fact DG was not a person who had experienced prison and also the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He warned that anyone forging orders of the court places themselves “at grave risk of an immediate and lengthy sentence of imprisonment.”