The High Court, in joint judicial review and Court of Protection proceedings, has recently given a judgment concerning the care management of a young man with severe learning disabilities named C. C was an 18 year old man who had been placed in a residential school as a minor. He had various challenging behaviours which were managed in part by placing him in a padded seclusion room, which was being used on an increasing level following escalating behavioural patterns.

The judgment in C v A Local Authority provides guidance on authorising a deprivation of liberty for people under 18 and the use of seclusion. Key points of the judgment include:

  • Where a 16 or 17 year old is to be deprived of their liberty the court’s approval must be sought before the deprivation occurs. The DOLS scheme is not applicable to 16 and 17 year old, and so the court’s approval is the only mechanism to make the deprivation of liberty lawful.
  • Commissioners may be held responsible for any breach of human rights which arises from the services they commission. Commissioners may also be liable to pay damages for any human rights breach.  

One of the most significant implications of this judgment relates to the application of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) Code of Practice. Many professionals may believe that this only applies to those individuals who are “in hospital” for treatment. However, the court held that where a young person’s condition falls within the definition of a mental disorder they are entitled to the protection afforded by the code, while maintaining the additional protection of the Court of Protection in relation to their deprivation of liberty at least until that person is assessed as being within the scope of the MHA when a decision has to be made as to which statutory code shall apply, ie the MHA is engaged. This meant that the MHA and its Code of Practice applied to C in relation to his care and treatment at the school and in particular to his seclusion and restraint.

As the Code should have been applied to C’s case, the court stated that the code’s guidance on the management of seclusion should have been followed in relation to C’s care at the school because seclusion was being employed as part of his care regime.