LETTER: The legal duty of those who care

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The Independent Online
From Mr Richard Gordon, QC

Sir: Stephen Laudat is a schizophrenic who stabbed his fellow inmate 82 times at a day centre in Newham. Relatively isolated incidents such as this inevitably make national headlines, as do the inquiries that always follow.

The Woodley report, sensible so far as it goes, points to inadequate funding for the mentally ill. True but, as the philosophers say, uninteresting. The underlying poverty at the heart of this government's care programme approach is the absence of any legally enforceable duties on the part of those responsible for providing services. Because of the elastic wording of the legislation, social services departments know that they can plead lack of resources and that the courts are powerless.

Minor amendments to the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 would enable the High Court, in judicial review, to declare inadequate community care provision to be unlawful. This, more than inquiry recommendations or even media headlines, would force the Government to act. It is the only effective means of reducing the prospect of further tragedies, such as Clunis and Laudat.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Gordon

London, WC2