23 Jul Ensuring accountability when older people can’t speak up for themselves
Wendy, a former magistrate, is 81 years old. She has lived in her home for 32 years. Wendy has recently developed severe dementia. Her son John cares for her at home, with the help of the local authority. When social workers ask Wendy about some scratches and bruises she can’t remember how they happened. The social workers decide to visit Wendy when John was out shopping and take Wendy away to a nursing home. They had no authorisation to do this.
When he returned home, John could not find his mum and no one told him where she was. It took John 19 days to find Wendy, and only after he had asked a lawyer to write to the council to try and locate her. John wanted to visit his mother, but because of the unexplained injuries, the council restricted John and Wendy’s contact, despite not investigating how the injuries had occurred. John and Wendy were not allowed to meet unsupervised for more than a year.
After sixteen months, the council dropped its (uninvestigated) allegations of abuse against John. The family decided to take court action because they believed keeping Wendy in the care home was a breach of her right to liberty, which is protected by the Human Rights Act (Article 5).
The judge found the way the council had handled their concerns about Wendy’s welfare was ‘woefully inadequate’. They had not investigated whether she was at risk before they took her away from her home, and they had not got the correct authorisation to keep her in a care home. Therefore, the local authority had breached Wendy’s right to liberty. In addition, the judge said the council had breached her right to respect for her private life in her own home, protected by the HRA in Article 8. This right also protects Wendy’s right to a family life with her son, John, which was breached when their visits were restricted. Wendy and John are now free to visit whenever they want.
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