The blind pianist who led our reporter to a closed courtroom

The Court of  Protection was a little known part of the justice system until this paper intervened

In May 2009, while I was a news reporter for The Independent, I was asked to interview a remarkably talented pianist named Derek Paravicini. Born 25 weeks premature, he was blind, autistic and had severe learning difficulties. Despite this misfortune he had earned the nickname “the human iPod” because of his extraordinary musical gift of being able to play any piece of music after hearing it only once.

As I was researching and writing the story I spoke at length to Derek’s first piano teacher and mentor, who recalled his astonishment at uncovering his pupil’s wonderful talent. During our conversation, he told me that Derek was currently the subject of a court case about who should be managing his affairs as he became an increasingly high-profile celebrity.

“Which court is that at?” I asked. “It’s called the Court of Protection,” he said. I’d never heard of it, but soon discovered it had been set up a few years earlier under the Mental Capacity Act, and arbitrated on the affairs of mentally incapable people.

I didn’t mention the court case in my piece about Derek. But the next day I began to make inquiries about attending, and was amazed to discover that no journalist had ever been to the court – all of its cases were heard behind closed doors. To me, this was baffling, and went against everything I’d ever been told about British principles of open justice.

While I could understand why disabled people might lack the capacity to consent to having their names and pictures appearing in the press, it seemed odd not to try to reach some sort of compromise which protected them while still allowing for the scrutiny of the media – on the court itself and the public authorities whose decisions were responsible for many of the cases being brought.

The Independent’s legal department took up the baton, and with the support of other media groups began to fight for our right to attend, using Paravicini as a test case. Almost exactly a year after the original interview ran, we won that right and became the first news organisation to report on a case at the Court of Protection.

The floodgates had opened, and since then a string of cases have been reported by this newspaper and others. The case of Steven Neary, a young autistic man found to have been unlawfully deprived of his liberty by Hillingdon Council, highlighted the importance of public authorities being held to account by the media. His father Mark credited the media coverage of his case for Steven’s return home.

Since 2009, The Independent has successfully applied to attend eight private COP hearings, and has published stories about ordinary people and what becomes of them once they are no longer able to make decisions about their own welfare. Time and again, Court of Protection judges have agreed that it can only be a good thing to shine a light on the agonising decisions the court faces, showing that the principle of “open justice” should also apply to these sensitive cases.

The concerns of Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, seem to have been prompted by the case of Wanda Maddocks, 50, who recently became the first person known to have been imprisoned by the Court of Protection when a judge handed her a five-month sentence for contempt of court.

Yet The Independent recently attended and reported on a similar current case in which a judge held back from jailing a relative for contempt because of doubts over their own mental capacity. So the decisions can go both ways – there is no blanket secrecy. It can only be a good thing that Mr Grayling has called on Lord Justice Munby, the President of the Family Division, to review proceedings at the Court of Protection and make them more “transparent”. But it is only fair to him to reveal that he is already looking at correspondence from The Independent asking for automatic access to the COP to achieve exactly that.

Thankfully, it is now too simplistic to use the words “secret” or “secretive” to describe the workings of the Court of Protection.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Marketing Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

£33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

Pen Tester / Penentration Tester

£35000 - £55000 per annum + BONUS + BENS: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Penet...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor