A common question for the Court of Protection to determine in health and welfare cases can be whether a vulnerable person should have contact with others, and if so how often and under what circumstances.
By the nature of that person’s vulnerability, they would be more susceptible to be being taken advantage of or being controlled and whilst many of the protected party’s relatives and close friends may be nothing other than a positive influence, at times certain individuals can present a risk to the protected party. In such circumstances, the Court of Protection may – if it is considered to be in the protected party’s best interests – seek to limit a person’s contact with the protected party for their own protection.
The recent case of MB v PB demonstrated how in the modern world there are a number of ways contact can be limited and why it may be necessary to limit contact.
MB v PB
The Protected Party in this case lived in a care home and had cognitive difficulties following a brain haemorrhage. Prior to her brain haemorrhage, the Protected Party had married MB. On moving to the care home, MB was prevented from accessing the care home and having in-person contact with the Protected Party. This was largely due to a series of concerns arising from allegations that MB was demonstrating controlling behaviour towards the Protected Party and acting in a confrontational manner towards the Protected Party’s carers, and also partly due to the pandemic which meant all contact between MB and the Protected Party was virtual only. A positive side effect of contact only taking place virtually was a visible improvement in the Protected Party’s behaviour.
MB sought to challenge the contact restrictions and the matter was brought before the Court of Protection. The Court of Protection was required to assess the evidence as to the allegations against MB to determine whether the restrictions in place were in the best interests of the Protected Party. The Court found that not only did MB demonstrate controlling behaviour of the Protected Party and the care staff, but that for the Protected Party, face to face contact was upsetting at times. The extent of MB’s controlling nature extended to MB seeking to cut the Protected Party’s contact with other family members. It was accepted, however, that the Protected Party did also enjoy MB’s company at times and therefore contact should not be stopped entirely.
The Court’s decision
The Court was unable to reach a decision as to whether the Protected Party’s contact with MB was in the Protected Party’s best interests. It was therefore decided that there would be a trial period for contact, subject to the care home’s agreement, which could be monitored moving forward. The Court also restricted MB’s contact with the carers, permitting him only to correspond with the care home by email once a week. This would allow the Court to assess MB’s attitude towards the care home which may then lead to an increase in contact with the Protected Party, providing MB could show he was willing to work with the care home.
The Court expressly limited contact with the Protected Party to virtual meetings during the trial period with directions that after this period ended, contact could be further reviewed. In particular, the Court noted contact between MB and the Protected Party had to be balanced with preserving the Protected Party’s place at the care home, which was under threat as a result of MB’s behaviour.
This case demonstrates that the Court of Protection can adopt a creative approach in order to balance conflicting needs and weigh up the interests of other parties in the proceedings. In this case, the Protected Party’s unrestricted face to face contact with her husband had the potential to jeopardise the Protected Party’s place at the care home, which the Court felt to be a priority. The Court of Protection, therefore, sought to reach a balance and in considering the Protected Party’s best interests put in place a proportionate restriction on the type and frequency of contact the Protected Party may have with MB.
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