The Court of Little Protection

Yesterday, the BBC station Radio 4 ran a feature on the so-called Court of Protection, the body set up to manage the financial affairs of those who are incapable of doing it themselves, such as those with dementia, brain injuries or lifelong learning disabilities. They covered three cases, one of a man with Down’s Syndrome whose mother had to jump through numerous hoops to remain in control of his affairs after he became adult, one of a man who suffered brain injuries in a motorbike accident but who has since regained much of his mental function, and a woman with dementia whose friend struggled to get her niece out of her business after she brutally killed the lady’s cat and then proceeded to steal thousands of pounds from her account.

It appears that the COP is over-bureaucratic and slow to act in cases of financial abuse (i.e. theft from, or extortion against, vulnerable people such as the elderly or disabled), but is also a licence to print money for the lawyers who function as “deputies”. The programme featured an interview with Neil Barker, a written version of which appears here, who sustained head injuries in a motorbike accident and subsequently received a £1.7m compensation package. Barker discovered that his money was being under-invested and receiving only 0.5% interest; while working part-time as an IT consultant, he noticed that the bank he was working for offered a savings account which offered 4%, which means that his account is some £50,000 down on what it could have been. Given that his mental capacity is somewhat improved (as evidenced by his having worked as an IT engineer, bought and renovated a house and sold it at a profit), he has been trying to get control of his own money back.

To do that, he’d need a consultant neurologist’s report, and for that, his deputy would need to apply for it — but the deputy refused, claiming that a court would refuse as he was last assessed two years ago, and it was unlikely that he would have improved much in that time. (Note: the first 18 months to two years are critical in neurological injuries, whether to the brain or the spinal cord; those two years are the time in which improvements happen. The article doesn’t say when his injury happened, however.) While he remains under the “protection” of the court, Barker’s “deputy” is allowed to dip into the account whenever any work needs to be done, i.e. whenever Barker wants to use some of his own money. The solicitor refused to answer questions and told Barker, who wanted him interviewed, that his permission wasn’t sufficient authority as he was the deputy in the first place because of Barker’s lack of mental capacity.

So, why on earth would a solicitor sitting on more than a million pounds who can charge a hefty fee every time his client needs to use it want to continue to keep the client disempowered? Answers on a postcard to the BBC, as their investigation didn’t ask this question. (Anna Raccoon did, however.)

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