The Court of Appeal handed down judgment on 9 October 2012 in a dispute between Sunderland City Council (S) v South Tyneside Council (T).
The issue was which of the two councils was the local social services authority with responsibility under section 117 of the Mental Health Act (MHA) for the aftercare of a young woman after discharge from the hospital where she was receiving treatment and was detained under the MHA.
The patient had been a student at a college in S’s area from 14 September 2009 to 3 October 2009. Following an attempt to commit suicide she was moved to a hospital in T’s area. She consented to this move. She was then detained under section 2 MHA on 10 October and section 3 MHA on 24 December. On 23 October (so after her detention under section 2) her placement at the college was terminated. This meant that she lost her licence to live in the halls of residence.
It was agreed that she was resident in S’s area up to 3 October 2009. The key issue in the case related to what happened after she ceased to be resident there.
At first instance the court decided that she had been resident at the hall of residence in S’s area and that she was not present at the hospital in T’s area for a settled purpose. This was because her presence in the hospital was not for a “settled purpose”.
The Court of Appeal disagreed.
They thought that the guidance in the case of R v Barnet LBC ex p Shah on the meaning of “is resident” was not helpful.
They noted the decision in R (Hertfordshire County Council ) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC that any period of compulsory detention is to be excluded and that the word residence, in section 117, does not mean the same as ordinary residence in s48 National Assistance Act 1948.
They then referred to another case involving the same Mohamed v The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. They observed that in this case, the court was of the view that the meaning of normal residence was a place where at the relevant time the person in fact resided and that so long as the place where that person ate and slept was voluntarily accepted by them the reason why they were there and not somewhere else did not prevent that place from being their normal residence.
This meant that when the college terminated the placement on 23 October the only place that the patient could have been regarded as resident was the hospital in T’s area.