The case of Sunderland City Council v Macpherson (2023) EWCOP 3 concerned the various orders which prevented FP’s mother from filming her and posting it on social media, as she lacked the capacity to give consent. This application by Sunderland City Council related to five alleged breaches of those orders amounting to contempt of court by Lioubov Macpherson (FP’s mother) as defendant in the proceedings. The judgment also deals with press reporting of the proceedings.
FP was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, experiencing auditory hallucinations including that people were going to kill her and to harvest her internal organs. She has been in and out of hospital over the past few years and since November 2021 has been living at her current care home, placement 3. FP’s schizophrenia has resulted in her resistance to treatment, and she requires care 24 hours a day. She continues to suffer from delusions and experiences episodes of screaming. FP lacks capacity to make decisions regarding where she should live, her care, and her contact with others.
FP’s mother had been criticised in earlier proceedings (as seen in the previous judgment in SCC v FP and others [2022[ EWCOP 30) over her behaviour towards care workers and attempts to control FP’s care, while also lacking a basic understanding of the impact of FP’s mental disorder. FP’s mother often told FP that the care staff were abusing her, and that she did not need the medication that they were providing her, as she did not have schizophrenia.
The defendant’s contact with FP was restricted and it was also ordered that the defendant would have restricted contact with FP’s care staff and medical professionals. The judge also extended various orders prohibiting FP’s mother from recording FP and posting that content on social media, as it was considered to be demeaning and a breach of FP’s privacy.
The application to commit was originally brought in three applications made in November and December 2022. Those applications contained eleven alleged breaches of the injunctive orders made on 30 June 2022.The defendant admitted to the eleven alleged breaches at the first hearing of committal applications on 8 December 2022, however at the hearing on 16 January 2023, Sunderland City Council indicated that it did not seek to persuade the court that six of the admitted breaches constituted contempt of court.
Poole J reviewed the range of sentencing options available to him in the circumstances. The Judge noted that the defendant ‘almost dared the court to sentence her’, however, that to imprison her would not be in the best interests of her elderly husband, of whom she acted as primary carer, or in the best interests of FP, as it would cause her further distress and upset and could lead to the deterioration of her mental state.
Despite FP’s actions being an imprisonable offense, Poole J concluded that under the mitigating circumstances, alongside the fact that the posts had been removed from social media, he would suspend FP’s sentence of 28 days for 12 months. Poole J also concluded that the defendant could be names given the committal proceedings and ordered the amendment of the Transparency Order accordingly.
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