Call for out-of-hours court service after urgent decision needed in mental capacity case

A High Court judge says a Government office which provides help to vulnerable people embroiled in litigation should consider offering an out-of-hours service.

Mrs Justice Theis oversees hearings in the Family Division of the High Court and the Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered.

She raised concern about the operation of the office of the Official Solicitor outside working hours in a ruling on a case involving a pregnant woman who has mental health issues.

The judge said she had to consider issues in the woman’s case at a recent late-night telephone hearing in the Court of Protection, after doctors said decisions about the way the child would be delivered needed to be made urgently.

She said the woman had not been represented by a lawyer at that hearing because the Official Solicitor’s office, which is headed by Official Solicitor Sarah Castle, did not offer an out-of-hours service.

Mrs Justice Theis said a lawyer representing hospital bosses had contacted the Official Solicitor’s office some hours before the hearing to put staff on alert.

She said a lawyer had called at 1633 and got the message: “As you probably know, we don’t offer an out-of-hours service and we note that given the urgency of the situation you intend to make an urgent out-of-hours application tonight. Given that, we can’t assist with any out-of-hours application.”

The judge had reviewed the case, during working hours at a public hearing in London, shortly after the late-night telephone hearing.

A lawyer instructed by staff from the Official Solicitor’s office had represented the woman at that follow-up hearing.

The judge gave doctors permission to perform a Caesarean section on the woman if the need arose.

“It is a matter of concern that (the woman) was put in the position she was,” said the judge in her ruling, which has been published online.

“I invite the Official Solicitor to urgently review this position and consider putting in place arrangements that will ensure appropriate representation out of normal court hours for those individuals who are the subject of urgent applications that potentially involve serious medical treatment.”

She said the woman could not be identified in media reports of the case.

But she said bosses at Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, which is based in London, had responsibility for the woman’s care and had asked her to make decisions.

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