Woman with learning difficulties won't be told about covert contraception, judge rules

Judge says woman's personal autonomy and human rights was breached when the device was fitted without her awareness six years ago but concludes device should remain

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Thursday 18 October 2018 20:37
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A woman with learning difficulties should not be informed she was covertly fitted with a contraceptive device, a judge has ruled.

Lord Justice Baker said the woman's personal autonomy and human rights had been breached when the device was fitted without her awareness six years ago.

But he has concluded the device should remain and says telling her about it would damage relationships with people she is dependent on for support.

He said the issue would need to be kept under review.

The judge had analysed the woman's case at a hearing in the specialist Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered, in London.

He has outlined his decision in a written ruling.

Another Court of Protection judge had approved the covert fitting of the device in 2012 after social workers raised concern about the woman being vulnerable and a target for sexual exploitation.

Lord Justice Baker said he had reviewed the latest evidence and been asked to decide a number of issues - including whether telling the woman about the device would be in her best interests.

The judge, who heard evidence from social services staff, medics and relatives, has not identified the woman. He said she was “young”.

“I recognise that the fact that (she) has been fitted with (the device) without her knowledge is a very significant interference with her personal autonomy and her human rights,” he said.

“Given that it is plainly in her best interests for the (device) to remain fitted, however, I reach the clear conclusion that she should not be told about the presence of (it) at this stage.

”I accept the argument that to do so would cause very considerable harm to her relationships with professionals and her family on whom she is utterly dependent.

“I acknowledge the risk of inadvertent disclosure but agree that it should be possible to manage this risk through a robust health action plan.”

He added: “It has to be recognised, however, that in all probability this state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. Covert treatment should only be countenanced in exceptional circumstances. When the time comes for the (device) to be renewed or replaced, every effort will have to be made to include (her) in the decision-making process about future contraception.”

The judge was based in the Family Division of the High Court when he analysed the case earlier this year and was known as Mr Justice Baker.

He has recently been promoted to the Court of Appeal and is now titled Lord Justice Baker.

In October last year, a high court ruled a woman with a severe learning disability who gave birth after a suspected rape should be fitted with a contraceptive patch against the wishes of her mother.

The 21-year-old woman - who was known in court as V - has an unspecified but severe learning disability.

Her mother, referred to in court as W, argued against contraception and said increased protective measures would be sufficient.

But a senior judge ruled the mother’s own health issues meant she was not able to give her daughter the necessary protection to stop another assault taking place.

V has cerebral palsy and epilepsy as well as learning difficulties. She has a mental age of about five and is only able to speak of a few words of her native language and knows even fewer English words.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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