Judge approves care plan to allow gay man with learning disabilities to meet online friends

A judge has approved a care plan which will allow a man with learning disabilities to meet “friends” he has found in gay chat rooms.

Mr Justice Cobb has ruled that the man, who is autistic, has the mental capacity to consent to sex but is unable to make decisions relating to internet use and who he should meet.

The judge said staff at a specialist unit where the man lived had put in place care plans aimed at allowing him to “safely” meet “friends” he had chatted to online.

He said staff would carry out a “person-specific contact assessment”.

Detail of the case has been outlined in a written ruling, published by the judge, following a virtual hearing in the Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered.

Mr Justice Cobb said the man, who is in his 30s, could not be identified in media reports.

“As an adult, (he) has pursued gay relationships,” said Mr Justice Cobb, in his ruling.

“He spends much time, and derives pleasure, from accessing gay websites, gay chat rooms and dating sites.

“He enjoys watching others performing sexual acts in the chat rooms, which he finds sexually arousing.”

The judge said the man was vulnerable and his activities had raised concerns for staff caring for him.

Council social services bosses with responsibility for the man’s welfare had asked the judge to make decisions about what was in his best interests.

Mr Justice Cobb said adults with learning difficulties could be at risk from people they met online, in the same way that children could be at risk.

The judge said the challenge was to make sure the man got support if he wanted to have a sexual relationship – and, at the same time, stayed safe.

“A detailed ‘best interests’ care package has been drawn up which defines the support which (he) will receive so that he can safely meet in person (when able to do so ) those ‘friends’ who he has ‘met’ online,” said the judge.

“This care package seeks to strike a balance between offering (him) protection, while affording him privacy and a degree of autonomy.

“The local authority clearly understands that it is not its role to vet (his) partners, or to deny him time with proposed sexual partners simply because the local authority considers them to be unsuitable.

“A person-specific contact assessment will be undertaken to establish whether (he) has the capacity to have contact with an individual, and a specific support plan drawn up as appropriate.”

Mr Justice Cobb concluded that the care package drawn up was in the man’s best interests.

The judge said the man could lawfully be deprived of his liberty if necessary.

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