We act for MM in his challenges to seek freedom from hospital detention under Mental Health Act. Following a decision of the Court of Appeal, MM (a client of Bison Solicitors) is seeking to take his case to highest court in the land – the Supreme Court. Bison acts for MM in his appeals.

Case background:
MM has previously been diagnosed as possessing mild learning disability and autistic spectrum disorder. Resulting behaviours include pathological fire starting, which in 2001 led to a conviction for arson. A criminal court imposed hospital order pursuant to s.37 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) and a restriction order under s.41 MHA. Although MM was conditionally discharged under s.73 of the MHA in 2006, his behaviour deteriorated and he was recalled to hospital in 2007.

Throughout, MM has possessed capacity regarding the question of whether liberty should be deprived and expressed his wish to agree to a lesser form of restriction than hospital whilst adhering to a strident care plan. The essence of MM’s case is that any deprivation of liberty would be lawful if he consented to it and that any condition imposed by a First-Tier Tribunal (FtT) requiring him to comply with a care plan would not in itself deprive MM of his liberty; although the terms of the care plan would.

Decision of the First-Tier Tribunal:
Despite the logic of MM’s case, the FtT did not discharge MM into the community. In making this decision the tribunal relied on RB v Secretary of State for Justice (RB) where the court refused to allow the FtT to impose conditions that deprived a patient of his liberty.

Decision of the Upper Tribunal:
MM was granted appeal of the FtT decision by the Upper Tribunal (UT). President of the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the UT, Charles J, applied Secretary of State for Justice v KC & Anor (KC) stating that a FtT does in fact jurisdiction to impose conditions on a conditional discharge that involve a deprivation of liberty, and that a patient with capacity could give valid consent to such conditions. The Secretary of State appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal’s decision:
The Court of Appeal disagreed with Charles J, favouring the position of the Secretary of State who argues that the scope of RB is ‘plain’ and the tribunal has ‘no power’ to impose a condition of a conditional discharge that is an objective deprivation of the patient’s liberty. This position appears to conflict with the stance of the ECtHR who have previously held that if a person has validly consented to his confinement, there can be no deprivation of liberty. This conflict in authority between RB and KC is hopefully an issue the Supreme Court can clarify. Such clarification would ensure the courts are adhering to their responsibilities under s.3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).

Human rights principles:
Before considering further why MM has reached the Supreme Court and the nature of the arguments our counsel may put forward, it is important to note the human rights issues at the heart of the case. Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides that no one should be deprived of his liberty save for few exceptions, including the lawful detention of persons of unsound mind.

The landmark case Cheshire West lowered the threshold regarding what constitutes a deprivation of liberty pursuant to Article 5 of the ECHR. Cheshire West established three key components to identifying a deprivation of liberty, namely:

1. The presence of an objective deprivation of liberty for a not negligible length of time;
2. The subjective element of lack of consent; and
3. The deprivation of liberty is imputable to the state.

One must bear in mind that in cases such as MM, it is the human rights of the patient upon which legal argument surrounds. Article 34 of the ECHR (and s.7 of the HRA) states that only the person who can challenge a public body on human rights grounds is the victim of the breach. Therefore if that persons opts not to complain, not even the Secretary of State can rely upon human rights arguments when challenging the decision of the tribunal. This is perhaps a criticism one can make of the Court of Appeal’s decision to rule in favour of the Secretary of State in MM.

Potential grounds for appeal to the Supreme Court:
In addition to the RB/KC conflict, one must also hope that the Supreme Court can directly address the key issue in MM’s case. This issue is that on one hand MM wishes to be discharged into less restrictive environment yet the court will not allow this on the grounds that doing so means MM must be subject to a care plan which will constitute a deprivation of liberty. Consequently, MM is denied greater freedom because imposing conditions (to which MM consents) would breach his rights under Article 5 of the ECHR. Such rigid application of human rights detriments MM’s Article 5 rights by enforcing an unnecessary and unjustified extension of his detention in hospital. Additionally, it may also constitute a breach of the court’s duty to give effect to domestic legislation in a manner which is compatible with Convention rights.

Our counsel may put forward that there are a number of problems with the courts’ rigid application of human rights. Firstly, it assumes that any conditions the tribunal would attach to MM’s community care plan would give rise to an unauthorised deprivation of liberty. However, s.73(4)(b) merely states that a patient has a duty to comply with the conditions and there is no mechanism for enforcing this duty. Therefore any condition requiring MM to live in a specific location, or be accompanied by someone at all times when he leaves this location, cannot give rise to an enforceable legal obligation on MM to comply with such a duty and thus cannot deprive him of his liberty.

In RB the tribunal rejected the notion that if a patient lawfully consents to such unenforceable conditions, a deprivation of liberty cannot be present. This is because they did not deem the patient’s consent as ‘unfettered consent.’ Our counsel may expose a number of reasons why this approach appears wrong in principle. Firstly, the fact that an individual has only a set of unattractive options to choose from does not, in law, mean that his freedom of choice is negated. The analogy of a person opting to risk having dangerous surgery or leave their condition to worsen and potentially lead to their death is a way of highlighting this point. In such instances, the absence of attractive options does not invalidate a person’s right to consent to an unattractive option. Article 8 of the ECHR indicates that the state has a duty to respect the private life (and therefore the autonomy) of every individual. Human rights apply universally and are inalienable (see Cheshire West) thus meaning that the human rights provisions apply equally to those detained under the MHA. It is very difficult to see how refusing to acknowledge that a patient has the right to give consent to abide by a set of (unenforceable) conditions can be compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR.

It will ultimately be for the Supreme Court to settle the RB/KC conflict and determine whether MM can consent to a strident community care plan. So far, the reluctance of the courts to set such a precedent is based on issues of fluctuating capacity and the scenario that a patient simply changes his mind regarding compliance with any conditions attached to a care plan. However, one must remember that a patient who opts to break the conditions of his discharge will do so with the knowledge that this may lead to him being recalled to hospital. These circumstances are applicable regardless of whether a patient is being deprived of their liberty by the conditions or not.

1[The Secretary of State for Justice v MM [2017] EWCA Civ 194
2[2012] 1 WLR 2043
3[2015] UKUT 0376 (AAC)
4[The Secretary of State for Justice v MM [2017] EWCA Civ 194 at para 21
5[see Stanev v Bulgaria (2012) 55 E.H.R.R. 22
6[Cheshire West and Cheshire Council v P [2014] AC 896