A sister's long and bitter battle to see more of her severely disabled sibling suffered a devastating blow yesterday when a judge ruled that a local authority-selected nursing home provided the best possible care.
The 63-year-old claimed she was being slowly cut off from her elder sister – who suffers from multiple sclerosis, related dementia and paranoid schizophrenia – by bullying staff who wanted to reduce her visits to just 30 minutes a week. In court, the pensioner, who can only be named as HN, pleaded for her 68-year-old sister FL to be moved to a home closer to her in London so she could see her more often.
Hampshire County Council argued that it was, in fact, HN who was confrontational and threatening to staff. It said she was a serial complainer who was so controlling that she was unwilling to accept professional opinion. Moving her disabled sister from where she had lived for eight years, they argued, could have devastating consequences and would only provide a fresh battlefield for disagreement.
The case provides a rare insight into the tortuous decisions faced every day by the Court of Protection, Britain's most secretive court which oversees the wellbeing of vulnerable people deemed not to have the capacity to make their own choices. It has remained strictly out of the public eye until a legal victory by The Independent last year.
Yesterday, in another legal breakthrough for the media, District Judge Alexander Ralton allowed contemporaneous publication of a previously private case: "I think it is important for the country as a whole to understand the dilemmas that can be faced by families, local authorities and persons concerned with someone's best interests, to understand the tremendous responsibility imposed on the Court of Protection in having to make official decisions," he said.
"It is a balancing exercise the court has to go through and agonising thought goes into making a decision."
After an acrimonious and heated four-day hearing, Judge Ralton found in favour of the local authority. While he assessed that the sister's passionate fight for her sibling was well intentioned, he found that it was misguided and exceeded "constructive criticism". He said HN had become so obsessed that she refused to accept a "plethora of independent opinions".
"If I could be confident there was a real prospect of a fresh start, that a change of care home would be a cure to this case, I would investigate further a change in care home. But whoever provides care to FL would be under exceptional scrutiny by HN," he said.
But he refused to increase restrictions on HN's visits to her sister, insisting she be allowed an hour a week. "I hope beyond hope that HN will conduct herself with the right sort of decorum and that these visits are successful," the judge added.
In emotional and often tearful testimony, HN said: "This has been very hard for me and I could have given up a long time ago but I didn't want to give up on my sister. I have tried to protect my sister. That is all I have tried to do."
Victoria Butler-Cole, representing the local authority, provided a host of professional opinion that the nursing home provided adequate care. One social worker said: "I have never come across a home that has achieved such care, absolutely excellent care. Staff respond to FL very swiftly."