A documentary aired in the US earlier this month which highlighted the ‘control’ of Britney Spears by her father has, according to one local lawyer, served to highlight the excellent level of protection available for people in England and Wales who suffer mental health issues resulting in temporary or long-term loss of capacity.
Shane Maddocks, Head of Public Authority Law at GHP Legal, says the documentary has provoked much debate regarding decision making and protection for people who may be going through tough times and may lack capacity to make decisions for themselves, but the specialist Court of Protection in England and Wales exists to protect them from those seeking to take control of their lives for the wrong reasons.
Britney Spears’ father, Jamie, has been her ‘conservator’ for 12 years, due to concerns about her mental health, but after she felt she had recovered and wished to resume responsibility for herself, her father refused to let go and in November 2020 she lost a legal battle to remove her father’s control over her estate.
“A Conservator is described as ‘a person, official, or institution designated to take over and protect the interests of an incompetent’”, explains Shane Maddocks. “Fortunately, in our legal system here in England and Wales we have a specialist Court known as the Court of Protection, which can make decisions for those who lack capacity to make decisions for themselves, but which is legally bound to act in their best interests.
“The person who lacks capacity, often known as “P”, should always be represented within Court of Protection proceedings by specialist and independent lawyers who have experience in dealing with the most vulnerable in our society, can make sure their voices are heard, and to look after their best interests.
“It is important that we make sure people are aware there is a proper process in this country to protect the rights of people who, for whatever reason, may lack capacity to make certain decisions. Any relatives who believe that their loved ones can no longer make their own decisions should ensure that they seek advice to ensure the proper processes are followed.
“Whilst they still have capacity people can, of course, also make provisions to ensure their interests are looked after if they were to later lose capacity. This can be done by preparing Lasting Power of Attorneys and “living wills”, but the important issue is to reassure people that the Court of Protection and specialist lawyers are out there to help when things become difficult”.