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Mental Capacity in the chamber

2. John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the arrangements by which the Official Solicitor is appointed to act in the family division. [279664]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): There has not been a recent assessment and there are not any plans for one. However, the family procedure rule committee has invited the family justice council to consider producing good practice guidance for those cases in which parties lack capacity to give instructions. That is currently being considered by the relevant sub-committee.

John Hemming: I thank the Minister for that answer. More than 100 times a year, mothers are prevented from opposing the adoption or the taking into care of their children as a result of a single expert opinion part-paid for by the local authority. Will the Minister meet me so that I can reveal to her the details of the dossier behind that and demonstrate how many mothers have their right to oppose removed because of mental capacity when in fact they do have the capacity to instruct a solicitor? I hope that a further assessment can be made and that these miscarriages of justice can be stopped.

Bridget Prentice: I will be more than happy to have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman about that, but I should say that the expert witnesses called to court to decide on capacity are not in the pockets of the local authorities. They are appointed with the agreement of both parties and they are there to answer the questions that the courts ask of them. It would be scurrilous to suggest anything other than that. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what Lord Justice Wall said after the hon. Gentleman attacked such an expert recently. He referred to the hon. Gentleman’s allegations as untenable and said that the way in which the hon. Gentleman described the expert psychologist was an abuse of position. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think very carefully about what the Lord Justices have said about his own behaviour in some of these cases.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I fundamentally disagree with the Minister. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) is doing a great service to justice and the families whose children are unnecessarily, unjustly and wrongly taken away from them. I also have such cases, and have liaised with the hon. Gentleman on the subject. Will the Minister accept his request for a meeting so that the dossier that he, I and others have produced can be discussed with her? In that way, she will see the injustice, secrecy and behind-the-door dealing involved in the current situation.

Bridget Prentice: I will be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss individual cases—as long as they are not in the middle of court proceedings, in which case such a discussion would be impossible. I shall be happy to discuss these things in general terms. The hon. Gentleman talks about the secrecy of the family courts, but my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State has only recently addressed those very points in giving the media more opportunity to scrutinise the substance of what happens in the family courts. He has done that for a number of reasons—not least to give back to the public the confidence that the family courts are acting in the best interests of the child. That is what everyone in the House and in the Court Service would want.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that since the abolition of the death penalty, the most drastic action that a court can take is the permanent removal of a child against the wishes of the parents? The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) referred to various cases involving mothers with low IQs who have their children put up for adoption; even though they wanted to contest the cases, the Official Solicitor refused to do so. Does she accept that the Official Solicitor’s inaction could be contrary to section 4(6) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005? Will she confirm that from now onwards, the Official Solicitor will contest all cases involving mothers with low IQs who wish to keep their children? Surely anything less would be heartless and wrong.

Bridget Prentice: These are very sensitive cases, and we should be very careful about the way we address them. The Official Solicitor’s job is to act on behalf of someone who lacks capacity. Their job is not to act on behalf of the child or the local authority, but, usually, on behalf of the adult—although occasionally it could be on behalf of the child—who lacks capacity. The Official Solicitor will so act only if there is evidence before the court suggesting that the adult lacks capacity to understand the court proceedings. The Official Solicitor would be acting outwith their responsibility as an officer of the court in doing anything other than acting on behalf of the person who lacks capacity.


Andrew said…
I don't know the lady Bridget Prentice, but she either is;

Oblivious to what actually happens, and believes what should happen does happen.

Or she is a cover up merchant.

I think the point's raised by you John and Sir Nicholas Winterton are great.
Jerry said…
I don't really make unfair comments about anyone but for christs sake does Bridget Prentice live in the real world, I'm sure she has her own constituents who are going through this nightmare of a situation, she's talking broken buscuits, Allowing the Media in to cases, yeah right, it is not a sure fire guarentee the media will be allowed in to the court rooms and report cases.

She really doesn't have a sodding clue, I suppose she is like the vast majority of the General public who walk around with blinkers on.

Come on Bridget, get off your arse and start speaking to the people who are in these horrendous situations, Oh sorry I already know from reading your response to my letters what your views were about this system.

Henry Billingham nailed the situation to a tee,

"Does the Minister agree that since the abolition of the death penalty, the most drastic action that a court can take is the permanent removal of a child against the wishes of the parents"
David said…
Local MP, Sir Nicholas Winterton has welcomed the response to a recent Written Parliamentary Question which he tabled seeking clarification on the background of the Ministry of Defence’s Nimrod MRA4 production contract, which the Macclesfield MP hopes will be placed with BAE Systems as a priority in order to underpin the viability of the BAE System’s site at Woodford for the foreseeable future. The Helix project could be a bonus for the company and workforce if they are successful in gaining this business.


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