P (by his litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Cheshire West and Chester Council and another

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeLord Carnwath,Lord Clarke,Lady Hale,Lord Neuberger
Judgment Date19 March 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] UKSC 19
Date19 March 2014

[2014] UKSC 19


Hilary Term

On appeal from: [2011] EWCA Civ 1257; [2011] EWCA Civ 190


Lord Neuberger, President

Lady Hale, Deputy President

Lord Kerr

Lord Clarke

Lord Sumption

Lord Carnwath

Lord Hodge

P (by his litigation friend the Official Solicitor)
Cheshire West and Chester Council and another
P and Q (by their litigation friend, the Official Solicitor)
Surrey County Council


Richard Gordon QC Simon Burrows Amy Street

(Instructed by O'Donnells Solicitors)


Jenni Richards QC Neil Allen Peter Mant

(Instructed by Cheshire West and Chester Council Legal Services)

2 nd Respondent

Joseph O'Brien Ian Goldsack

(Instructed by Irwin Mitchell LLP)


Richard Gordon QC Fenella Morris Benjamin Tankel

(Instructed by Steel & Shamash Solicitors)


Jenni Richards QC Neil Allen Peter Mant

(Instructed by Surrey County Council Legal Services)


Paul Bowen QC

(Instructed by Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Intervener (National Autistic Society and Mind)

Ian Wise QC Stephen Broach Martha Spurrier

(Instructed by Clifford Chance LLP)

Intervener (The AIRE Centre)

Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC Henry Witcomb Duncan Fairgrieve

(Instructed by Leigh Day & Co)

Heard on 21, 22 and 23 October 2013

Lady Hale (with whom Lord Sumption agrees)


This case is about the criteria for judging whether the living arrangements made for a mentally incapacitated person amount to a deprivation of liberty. If they do, then the deprivation has to be authorised, either by a court or by the procedures known as the deprivation of liberty safeguards, set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 ("the Mental Capacity Act"). If they do not, no independent check is made on whether those arrangements are in the best interests of the mentally incapacitated person, although of course the health or social care bodies who make the arrangements do so in the hope and belief that they are the best which can practicably be devised. It is no criticism of them if the safeguards are required. It is merely a recognition that human rights are for everyone, including the most disabled members of our community, and that those rights include the same right to liberty as has everyone else.

The statutory background

The deprivation of liberty safeguards were introduced into the Mental Capacity Act by the Mental Health Act 2007. In a sense the wheel has turned full circle. Throughout the 19 th century it was assumed that persons of unsound mind (then known as either "lunatics" or "idiots") should be kept in some form of confinement and reformers concentrated upon providing more and better institutions where they could live. But it was also recognised that there was a risk of unjustified confinement and assumed that some form of judicial certification was the best protection against this. This was therefore the approach adopted under the Mental Deficiency Acts of 1913 and 1927, under which publicly funded institutions were established for people whose mental handicaps ranged from the severe (known as "idiots"), through the moderate (known as "imbeciles"), to the mild (known as "feeble-minded"). Those Acts did not provide for a "voluntary" status for patients who were able to consent to their admission to hospital, nor did they provide for an "informal" status for those who lacked the capacity to consent but raised no objection to their admission. However, unlike the institutions providing for people with mental illnesses, the institutions in question were not prohibited from admitting patients without formal certification. During the 1950s, therefore, this was first encouraged for patients admitted for a short time; and the Report of the Royal Commission on the Law relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency 1954–1957 (chaired by Lord Percy), recommended that this could and should become the general practice without waiting for legislative reform (1957, Cmnd 169). Certification was seen, not only as bringing with it some stigma, but also as inconsistent with the goal of "normalising" the care and treatment of these patients and bringing it into line with the care and treatment of people with physical disorders and disabilities.


A legislative basis for such "informal" admissions to hospital was provided by section 5(1) of the Mental Health Act 1959, now contained in section 131(1) of the Mental Health Act 1983 ("the 1983 Act"):

"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as preventing a patient who requires treatment for mental disorder from being admitted to any hospital or registered establishment in pursuance of arrangements made in that behalf and without any application, order or direction rendering him liable to be detained under this Act …"

But that, of course, begged the question of the underlying law: on what legal basis could a person who lacked the capacity to decide to go into hospital – or indeed anywhere else – be admitted and treated there, whether for mental or physical disorder?


The answer came in the case of In re F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation) [1990] 2 AC 1. The House of Lords confirmed that there was no-one authorised by law to consent to treatment on behalf of an adult who lacked the capacity to consent for himself, nor was there any jurisdiction in the courts to give such consent. It was, however, lawful for him to be given such treatment and care as was necessary in his own best interests. In cases of doubt or dispute, moreover, the High Court could declare whether or not proposed treatment would be lawful. That principle has now been given statutory backing in section 5 of the Mental Capacity Act; as originally enacted, however, section 6(5) of the Act was designed to make it clear that this did not permit hospitals or other carers to deprive a person of his liberty. This was prompted by the litigation concerning HL.


Quite how far the necessity principle might extend at common law was tested in the case of R v Bournewood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust, ex p L [1999] 1 AC 458. HL was autistic and profoundly mentally disabled. He had lived in a hospital for many years before being discharged to live with paid foster carers, Mr and Mrs E. One day he became agitated at his day centre and, as the foster carers could not be contacted, a social worker and doctor were called, he was sedated and taken to A & E, where he was examined by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist assessed that he needed in-patient treatment, but by then he appeared fully compliant, and so he was admitted informally. Although the plan was to return him to Mr and Mrs E as soon as the hospital staff thought it possible, their contact with him was restricted and he would have been prevented from leaving had he tried to do so. Habeas corpus and judicial review proceedings were brought on his behalf. These succeeded in the Court of Appeal (whereupon HL was promptly "sectioned" under the Mental Health Act), but failed in the House of Lords. The majority held that the hospital had not detained him. Lord Nolan and Lord Steyn held that it had. Lord Steyn expressed himself with some force, at p 495:

"Counsel for the trust and the Secretary of State argued that L was in truth always free not to go to the hospital and subsequently to leave the hospital. This argument stretches credulity to breaking point. The truth is that for entirely bona fide reasons, conceived in the best interests of L, any possible resistance by him was overcome by sedation, by taking him to hospital and by close supervision of him in hospital and, if L had shown any sign of wanting to leave, he would have been firmly discouraged by staff and, if necessary, physically prevented from doing so. The suggestion that L was free to go was a fairy tale."

Nevertheless, both he and Lord Nolan agreed with the majority that what had been done was justified by the necessity principle and that section 131(1) covered, not only a patient who was able to and did give a valid consent, but also a patient who was unable to do so.


The case then went to the European Court of Human Rights as HL v United Kingdom (2004) 40 EHRR 761. The court agreed with Lord Steyn that HL had been deprived of his liberty. It found violations, both of the right to liberty, in article 5(1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and of the right of a detained person to speedy access to a court which can order his release if his detention is not lawful, in article 5(4). Article 5(1)(e) permits the lawful detention of persons of unsound mind, but that detention has to conform to the Convention standards of legality, and the doctrine of necessity did not provide HL with sufficient protection against arbitrary deprivation of his liberty. The court was struck by the difference between the careful machinery for authorising the detention and treatment of compulsory patients under the Mental Health Act and the complete lack of any such machinery for compliant incapacitated patients such as HL.


Key passages from the judgment are these:

"89. It is not disputed that in order to determine whether there has been a deprivation of liberty, the starting point must be the specific situation of the individual concerned and account must be taken of a whole range of factors arising in a particular case such as the type, duration, effects and manner of implementation of the measure in question. The distinction between a deprivation of, and restriction upon, liberty is merely one of degree or intensity and not one of nature or substance.

90….. The majority of the House of Lords specifically distinguished actual restraint of a person (which would amount to false imprisonment) and restraint which was conditional upon his seeking to leave (which would not constitute false...

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