To what extent should the Court consider the Protected Party’s capacity (and wishes) to consent to sexual relations and contraception?

The Protected Party is a young woman with learning disabilities. She previously lived with her family but took part in a number of social and community activities. Concerns were raised, by reason, of her learning difficulties. She was vulnerable to sexual exploitation, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. There is evidence that she was sexually assaulted, and it was reported that the police expressed concern that the Protected Party should not be unsupervised as she appeared to be a target for sexual exploitation.

The Protected Party has two children, who are in the care of her family. A few years ago, an application was made to the court for an order that the Protected Party be sterilised. This application was aborted and the decision was made to consider a long term method of contraception instead. The other main issue was the concerns regarding the Protected Party’s protection against sexual exploitation.

The expert evidence of a consultant psychiatrist was that the Protected Party lacked mental capacity to consent to sexual relations, to consent to contraceptive treatment and to litigate. It was also recommended that the Protected Party should be supervised at all times when in the presence of sexually active men. She received further education about sexual matters and the Protected Party was to undergo the insertion under general anaesthetic of a copper inter-uterine device (IUD). It was advised that the Protected Party would be sedated, and the IUD would be inserted without her knowledge. This contraception would last for 10 years.

During a lengthy hearing in 2012, Parker J made an order in which, having declared that the Protected Party lacked capacity to litigate and to make decisions with regard to contraceptive treatment, she further declared that it was lawful for the Protected Party (with or without her agreement) to undergo the insertion of a copper coil IUD, to receive a Depo-Provera contraceptive injection, to undergo a full sexual health screen, and to be subject to proportionate restraint if necessary, including sedation. Following the hearing, the Protected Party underwent the operation for the insertion of the IUD. No reasoned judgment was given at the hearing in 2012 and, in the event, no further hearing took place for several years.

In 2016, the Local Authority made an application to restore the proceedings, to revisit the question of the Protected Party’s capacity to engage in sexual relations. The proceedings were to assess and evaluate the clinical risks to the Protected Party’s health presented to her by any further pregnancy; to revisit the Protected Party’s capacity to consent to contraceptive treatment; to re-evaluate the options for Protected Party’s contraceptive treatment in view of the fact that the IUD inserted in 2012 has a life of approximately ten years; to reassess the best interests decision not to inform her of the fact of the insertion of the IUD in the light of any improvement of her understanding; and to authorise her Deprivation of her Liberty at her placement.

Following the preparation of a report on future care support by the CHT, it was agreed that the IUD should remain in situ until the end of its natural life. A statement from the social worker set out four options:

(1) option A(i) – the IUD remains in place, the Protected Party is not informed of its existence, and care and supervision remains at its current level;

(2) option A (ii) – the IUD remains in place, the Protected Party is not informed of its existence, but the level of care and supervision is reduced;

(3) option B – the IUD is removed without informing the Protected Party and the risk of sexual exploitation is managed “through social means” with the current level of care and supervision;

(4) option C – the IUD remains in place and the Protected Party is informed of this.

Having analysed the benefits and disadvantages of these options, the social worker decided option 2 was in the Protected Party’s best interests.

At the hearing in 2017, the three principal issues between the parties were as follows:

(1) Does the Protected Party have capacity to consent to sexual relations?

(2) If she does, what steps should be authorised to facilitate the relationship between the Protected Party and her boyfriend, or between her and any other person with whom she wished to have a sexual relationship?

(3) Is the proposed relaxation in supervision in her best interests? In addition, however, it was thought appropriate for the court to review wider issues concerning her treatment, including the question of whether it should continue to be covert or whether the Protected Party should be informed about it.

In addition, however, it was thought appropriate for the court to review wider issues concerning her treatment, including the question of whether it should continue to be covert or whether the Protected Party should be informed about it. As there remain a number of details within the draft order which the parties have been unable to agree, it was necessary for the judge to make an order outlining the best interests of the Protected Party in relation to her capacity – general principles, capacity other than sexual relations, her capacity to consent to sexual relations, contraception, covert treatment and her sexual relationships and supervision.

In this case, there are a number of arguments against retaining the IUD. It is a clear infringement of the Protected Party’s human rights and freedom. Furthermore, this infringement has been brought about without her knowledge and without providing her with any opportunity to express her wishes and feelings. In her oral evidence, the Care Agency manager said that she thought that the Protected Party would not want to keep the IUD if asked. Secondly, although the Protected has not been expressly asked about her wishes and feelings concerning contraception, she has consistently said that she does not want to have a baby at this stage. It was necessary to consider the psychological harm that the Protected Party may encounter if; the IUD was removed and she became pregnant again or if the IUD was removed without sedation. In this instance, it was decided that it is in the Protected Party’s best interests for the IUD to remain in place until the end of its normal ten-year span. At that point, further careful consideration will have to be given as to what contraceptive treatment.

It was directed for the level of sexual supervision of the Protected Party and her boyfriend should be relaxed slightly and reviewed at a further hearing once this has been considered in more depth. Finally, the provisions of the order relating to the IUD plainly involve a Deprivation of Liberty. A clause was included within the order that such a deprivation is lawful.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke or the team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com

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