The lawyer heading up one of the area's largest mental health teams has reported a strong increase in the demand for legal advice on deprivation of liberty following a landmark Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.
John Lancaster, a partner in the Wrexham head office of GHP Legal, also warns that local authorities need to take the initiative and review their existing clients to comply with their obligations, in particular Wrexham, Conwy and Ceredigion where, he says, the low and non-existent rates of deprivation of liberty safeguards (DOLS) authorisation give â€˜cause for concern'.
In what was described as the most far reaching human rights case to be heard in the UK for a decade, seven Supreme Court judges ruled in March this year that human rights are universal in their character and therefore people with both mental and physical disabilities have the same rights as anyone else and should not be deprived of their liberty without due process and the safeguards legislated by Parliament.
The ruling came after representatives of three adults appealed for clarification on whether the living arrangements made for a mentally incapacitated person amount to deprivation of liberty and, if so, whether the deprivation must be authorised by a court or by the procedures known as DOLS in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and subject to regular independent checks.
Mr Lancaster said today: "As predicted back in March by my colleague, Natalie Roberts, the widely reported Supreme Court decision in the Cheshire West case has caused both family members and local authorities to reconsider whether many residents in care homes, hospitals and other institutions are, in reality, being deprived of their freedom. Where they are, the deprivation of those persons' liberty should be authorised by the appropriate procedures to give them the safeguards they need.
"Figures released in February by Health Inspectorate Wales show a significant difference in the number of DOLS authorisations in Wales. In all local authorities in Wales in 2012-2103, the proportion of DOLS authorisations to population was 7.4 per 100,000, whilst in Wrexham it was only 2.8 per 100,000. None at all were recorded for Conwy and Ceredigion. The low rate of authorisation in Wrexham and the complete absence of authorisation in Conwy and Ceredigion are causes for concern.
"At GHP Legal we are seeing families who are seeking specialist advice about loved ones in care for a variety of reasons such as dementia, brain damage, autism or learning difficulties. The recent revelations about mistreatment in care homes provide yet further evidence of the need to protect all vulnerable persons in every way we can."