OPG v DJN

In this case, the Office of Public Guardian applied to the Court of Protection to revoke a Lasting Power of Attorney that had been made by P, which appointed his son (DN) as his attorney. He subsequently lost capacity and concerns were raised as to whether or not P had the appropriate level of capacity at the time it was prepared. It had been investigated and concerns were raised that DN had not acted in the P’s best interests by selling his residence and transferring the majority of the proceeds to himself and mixing the finances by operating a joint account.

In December 2017, a district judge suspended the operation of the LPA and directed the appointment of an interim deputy. This order was formalised shortly after.

DN contested the substantive application. He maintained that P had capacity at all relevant times and denied any wrongdoing.

At the final hearing on 17 and 18 June 2019, the OPG’s application was dismissed, DN’s attorneyship was restored and the appointment of the interim Deputy was discharged.

DN sought an order for costs of £82,000 and argued that the hostile approach taken by the OPG was wrong. A detailed skeleton argument in support of the point that the OPG had behaved unreasonably in the matter was submitted for the court to justify departing from the normal costs rule.

The OPG rebutted this with arguments that its approach was not hostile but simply fulfilling its duties under s58 MCA 2005 and the Lasting Powers of Attorney, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Public Guardian Regulations 2017.

The Counsel for the OPG stated “In the alternative, if the court concluded that a costs order would leave P with insufficient funds, the court should make no order for costs. This would mean that the Public Guardian would bear his own costs and DN’s costs would be met from the monies he received from P.” Whatever position the court adopted, Ms Rich said that “this was certainly not a case where the Public Guardian should be made to pay the other party’s costs.”

Rule 19.2 of the Court of Protection Rules 2017 states that where proceedings concern P’s property and affairs, that the costs of the proceedings shall be paid by P or charged to P’s estate.

Rule 19.5 provides that: (1) the Court may depart from rules 19.2-19.4 if the circumstances so justify, and in deciding whether departure is justified the court would have regard to all the circumstances including; (a) the conduct of the parties.

The Public Guardian adopted what seemed to be a standard approach to litigation based on his approach to other cases. This was a serious failure especially when rule 1.4 COPR 2017 expects litigants to comply with the overriding objective. This obligation applies equally to the Public Guardian.

The judge concluded that there was good reason to depart from the usual costs rules as a result of the OPG failing to review the capacity evidence appropriately prior to commencing proceedings. Had this been done, the “obvious deficiencies” would have been noted.

Having consideration to the relevant law and the parties’ submissions, the order made was that the Public Guardian was not entitled to be paid his own costs from P’s funds and that he should pay 50% of DN’s costs (which shall include the costs of the appeal hearing) all of which shall be assessed at the Senior Courts Costs Office by a Costs Judge.

If you have any queries please contact Bridie Sanderson at bridie.sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com or 0113 336 3350.

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