Kent County Council v P & Anor [2022] EWCOP 3

This matter concerned P, a 21-year-old woman, who was subject to proceedings in the Court of Protection.  The issue in discussion was whether the public should be admitted to the proceedings and if the judgment should be published.

P suffered extreme neglect at the hands of her parents and was found malnourished and in an exceptionally poor state of care by the police in 2019.  P is now cared for by the local authority and has required extensive input from various NHS bodies and lives with physical and mental injuries as a result of her traumatic experiences.  She resides in a flat with a team of carers, with the necessary DOLS authorisation in place.  P has been assessed as lacking capacity in relation to care and residence, property and affairs and decisions concerning contact with her parents.

In light of the circumstances of this matter and the extent of the neglect P suffered, there was considerable interest from the press in her case.  Initial hearings were held privately where the potential impact on P, of the involvement of any media or social media commentary, was discussed.

Consideration was given to law and policy concerning transparency in the Court of Protection and factors to be considered when reaching a decision to depart from the general rule, that any attended hearing shall be public.  Kent County Council made submissions that the matter should be kept private, in light of the potential impact and damage to P if she were identified.  It was reported that P became upset and distressed if she felt people were discussing her.  Additionally, they relied on the fact there was no public interest in having the Court of Protection proceedings published, which contained very intimate and personal information about P.  Likewise, Kent Police also submitted the proceedings be kept private.  They raised their concerns of the impact any publication may have on the criminal proceedings and the integrity of any future trial.

However, following analysis of the relevant provisions Lieven J concluded the press should be allowed to report, subject to an RRO (Restrictive Reporting Order).  This decision contradicted the previous decisions to keep the proceedings private.  Lieven J stated at the time of making the previous order it was anticipated P would become much more engaged in the outside world and was at a real risk of hearing and understanding public comment, which may have had a negative impact on her.  However, it was noted now that P had not connected with the outside world as originally expected, therefore the potential risk of personal distress to her was significantly less than previously thought.

Lieven J additionally dismissed the argument advanced by Kent police, relying on the case of Jefferson v Bhetcha, he stated the risks were merely notional rather than real and further stated; “the very passage of time will lessen the impact of any publicity” on the criminal trial.

Lieven J therefore concluded the case be made public, stating the fact that such distressing cases could occur in the UK and the process of how such cases are dealt with, by the relevant authorities, was a legitimate matter of public interest.

The full judgement can be read here

If you have any questions regarding this summary case law please contact Michelle Wright here

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