Tuesday 1 March 2011

Indy hails lifting of secrecy in Court of Protection

The Independent today hails a breakthrough in lifting the secrecy surrounding the Court of Protection, which deals with vulnerable people who are judged unable to make their own decisions.

It means the media being able to report the case of Mark Neary and his struggle to be allowed to care for his autistic son, Steven.

The paper says the Court of Protection "very rarely allow any of their proceedings to be reported, even when a person's liberty is at stake. Where publicity is allowed, initials usually have to be used to designate the individuals involved, to protect their identities.

"But a campaign led by The Independent, and backed by other leading news organisations, produced a breakthrough yesterday when Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled that the media would be allowed into the hearings that will determine Steven Neary's future, and could report his name, and name the local authority involved. It is thought to be the first time that a judge in a Court of Protection case has allowed all the parties involved to be identified.

"The ruling means that for the first time, the public will get a detailed look at the workings of the Court of Protection, which was set up in 2007, and the new Deprivation of Liberty Orders, which came into force in April 2009. These orders can be applied to hospital patients and residents of care homes, where it is believed that it is in their interest."

In 2009 the Court of Appeal upheld a court judgment obtained by the Independent which allowed reporters into the courtroom as long as they could show "good reason" to be there.

The Independent says: "Yesterday's ruling does not mean that the Court of Protection is now open to the press and public in the same way as a criminal court – where the principle is that justice must be seen to be done – or even the family court, where there is a presumption that accredited journalists are allowed to report proceedings but names are withheld, so that the families retain their privacy while the manner in which the courts work can be scrutinised.

"In the Court of Protection, the issue of whether there is to be any publicity at all is still to be decided on a case by case basis."

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