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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all