Mental Health lawyer voices concern about effects of court overload on vulnerable persons

The lawyer who heads up one of the area's largest family and mental health legal teams has spoken out in support of what he calls ‘a grave warning' issued this week by the most senior family judge in the land.

John Lancaster, a partner with GHP Legal which has offices in Wrexham, Llangollen and Oswestry, says he has for some months had serious concerns about the effects on vulnerable persons of an anticipated 10-fold surge in the number of legal challenges to deprivation of liberty safeguards (DOLS) in the coming year.

During a Court of Protection hearing last week to determine how the court process could be streamlined to cope with the expected flood of cases, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, said the situation raised ‘very serious questions about the administration of justice'.

Explaining the background to his and Sir James Munby's comments, Mr Lancaster, a member of the Law Society Mental Health accreditation scheme, said:

"In March this year a Supreme Court ruling stated that severely disabled people had the same right to ‘physical liberty' as anyone else. Since then it has become increasingly clear that the number of people being deprived of their liberty on mental disability or impairment grounds has been vastly underestimated.

"From recently responses we have received from local authorities in this region, there appears to be a tacit acceptance that some are currently in breach of DOLS. And whilst they may be doing their best to prioritise and assess relevant residents in hospitals and care homes, inevitably they will continue to be in breach of the current law for some considerable time to come.

"In the meantime it is essential that vulnerable people and their relatives seek advice from experienced legal professionals as early as possible if they have any reason to believe that their liberty is being compromised.  Our experience suggests that many residents in local care homes are there against their wishes and without the necessary statutory protection."