Out-of-hours rulings are an affront to justice

Crucial decisions are being made on the basis of the testimony of only one

Share

Most of us will not need to come into contact with the Court of Protection, which since its establishment in 2005 has ruled on the property, ­financial affairs and welfare of people who are unable to take responsible decisions for themselves.

This is, in other words, a very important court, precisely because it adjudicates on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, which is why this newspaper’s revelations about the casual and far from transparent manner in which some of these ­decisions are made should worry everyone.

What The Independent has discovered is that judges of the court in some cases seem to be issuing snap rulings on people’s welfare – ­including on whether they should be allowed to die – out of hours, on the telephone. One retired judge has recalled that he was in the back of a taxi when he issued a ruling on whether a Jehovah’s Witness with learning difficulties should have a transplant.

One problem with these out-of-hours rulings is that some are made after hearing the testimony of only one party’s barrister. Decisions crucial to people’s livelihoods are thus taken on the basis of a single summary of the rights and wrongs of all the sides involved – a tall order given the complexity of some of the cases that the court handles.

That judges are deciding any matters involving life and death on the basis of one side’s testimony will probably surprise many. We cherish the idea that impartiality remains the cornerstone of British justice, namely the right to a fair hearing, which implies judgment following the delivery of arguments both for and against. Of course, most people accept that the volume of work before courts these days means that judges must take an increasing number of decisions without the involvement of juries, which is a regrettable development. But routinely allowing one-sidedness in the process of evidence submission looks like a bigger step in the wrong direction.

What should cause additional concern is that judges are not obliged to make recordings, written transmissions or even keep detailed notes of these rulings, which makes it hard to evaluate their quality or appeal. We do not know even how many are made each year.

The opaque character of the rulings meanwhile gives rise to suspicions that something untoward may be taking place. Lawyers have told this newspaper of their suspicions that some local authorities may be taking advantage of a provision  intended only for the last resort to get cases rushed through that might be contested if they were heard during normal court sitting hours.

No one is suggesting that this out-of-hours provision should be scrapped. There will ­always be cases coming before the Court of Protection, especially over weekends, that cannot wait until it sits at 9am on Monday.

But we have a right to insist on a much greater degree of transparency in these rulings. John Hemming, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law, is today calling on the justice committee to look at some individual cases. He says the Government is complacent about the system and that as an absolute minimum statistics need to be kept about the number of out-of-hours rulings as well as about the outcomes. We support him in this. In handling decisions made concerning, and on behalf of, the mentally incapable, the Court for Protection has a weighty responsibility. If is to live up to its name, its decision-making processes need to be far more visible and accountable than they are now.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
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
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?