NB, Re (Consent to sex) [2019]- After 27 Years of marriage, did the Protected Party have capacity to marry and consent to sexual relations with her husband?

The Protected Party came to live in the UK in 1985 and married her husband in 1992. The marriage was contracted abroad. When the Protected Party first came to live in the UK she did so without her husband. There was a period in which the couple were separated whilst her husband made an application for permission to enter the UK, but in May 1996, the Protected Party travelled abroad to return to live with her husband. Following a series of applications to the Home Office throughout 1997, the couple came, eventually, to live together in London. They lived with the Protected Party’s parents and a year later their daughter was born.

The question was brought to the Court relating to the Protected Party’s capacity to marry and subsequent capacity to consent to sexual activity.

Mr Justice Hayden reviewed a letter to the Immigration Appeals department, that was brought before him by the Official Solicitor, dated March 1996, in which a clinical psychologist, Ms Suzanne Wilson, stated:

‘I believe Protected Party’s experience of her husband’s absence is stressful due to her attachment and affection towards him which has developed during their periods together. In her daily life the Protected Party consistently demonstrates her intense attachment to her husband. She often says his name with affection. She repeatedly asks where he is and pleads that he should be with her. She appears to understand the lasting nature of marriage, including that of marriage as a committed sexual bond between a man and a woman. It is my view that the Protected Party would be very unlikely to have such an affectionate attachment to her husband if this were not on a mutual basis and I therefore believe that her attachment can be taken as evidence of her husband’s positive attention and caring towards her when they are together’.

It is important to note that the Protected Party suffered from what is referred to as ‘general global learning difficulty’ and ‘an impairment’ in relation to her ability to communicate with others. She has been, at least historically, assisted using Makaton sign language and her sentences were limited.

As a result of a number of remarks the Protected Party made to her dentist, in October 2014, a safeguarding enquiry was instigated. There is no record of what it was that she said to the dentist, but it was clear that it had something to do with the quality of her relationship with her husband and it was such as to give rise to a concern that she might be vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Very quickly, an education programme was put in place focusing on sex education, relationships, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases as well as more general issues relating to Protected Party’s health.

The conclusion of the assessment was that the Protected Party was unable to demonstrate an appreciation of why people got married, separated or divorced. It was concluded that she lacked the mental capacity to marry. In respect of her capacity to consent to sexual relations it was considered that she lacked an understanding of the association between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. Inevitably, it followed, that she could not link various forms of contraception to the concept of averting pregnancy. She did not have the capacity to retain information in relation to these issues. It was also considered that she was unable to communicate the concept of refusal of sex to her husband.

The Protected Party’s husband was a man in his early 50’s who has never been in any trouble with the police. It was agreed that there had been no concerns expressed by any of the professionals in relation to his behaviour either more recently or historically.

The couple found themselves in a challenging situation in which their private and sexual life was being scrutinised by a variety of professionals. Whilst the Protected Party’s husband was being analysed, he appeared both frightened and embarrassed when he came to Court. On 29 March 2019, when the matter was brought to Court there had been an agreement between the Protected Party’s husband, the Applicant and the Respondent that the case would proceed by way of the Protected Party’s husband giving an undertaking to the Court not to sleep with his wife.

Mr Justice Hayden concluded that he was “Reserving Judgment in order that I can take the time to look carefully and in some detail at the case law and its applicability to the facts of this case. It would appear, that it requires to be said, in clear and unambiguous terms that I do so in order to explore fully Protected Party’s right to a sexual life with her husband and he with her, if that is at all possible.

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

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