From January 2016 the Court of Protection opens its doors, in a 6 month pilot scheme, to the public and the media for the first time. Only in exceptional cases will the hearings be held in private, although it is thought that a certain amount of anonymity involving the names of those involved is likely to remain.
The aim is to make the Court more transparent, to improve public awareness of what the Court does and to show how the Court can assist people.
As people are living longer, more and more people are having to act for elderly relatives who have lost capacity and therefore a greater understanding of how the Court can assist, should be positive. Similarly, those who have been looking after brain injured children often find themselves needing assistance as the child gets older but do not know how to get help. In principal the opening of the doors to promote awareness is a positive idea, however the Court should be cautious about how a public hearing will affect the Patient and their family.
Mr Justice Charles has said that the key issue as to whether the pilot becomes permanent will largely depend on how responsible the media is on reporting the cases. Presumably this will include the media correctly defining who the Court can make rulings about i.e. those who lack capacity. Already journalists are referring to the Court making decisions for the “sick” or “vulnerable” which is not helpful in assisting the public. Only time will tell whether the doors remain open.
By Alexandra Edwards, Court of Protection team.