Council loses damages appeal after dementia sufferer wrongly deprived of liberty

A London council ordered to pay about £140,000 damages after a judge concluded that social services bosses had not followed proper legal procedure when dealing with a woman suffering from dementia has lost the latest round of a court fight.

Haringey Council (pictured) argued the amount of damages District Judge John Beckley decided Irene Emile should get, after concluding she had been unlawfully deprived of her liberty for nearly eight years, was “manifestly disproportionate”.

But a more senior judge has dismissed an appeal.

Judge Alan Saggerson said the award was “generous” but concluded District Judge Beckley had made “no error of law or principle”.

He said the council had been “unwittingly officious” and had “overridden properly formulated considerations” of Mrs Emile’s best interests.

Detail of the case has emerged in a ruling by Judge Saggerson, who oversaw an appeal hearing in the Central London County Court in December, which has been published online.

Judge Saggerson said Mrs Emile, who lived in Haringey, had died while litigation was ongoing.

Her daughter, Sharon Amazigo, had taken legal action on her behalf.

The judge indicated the money would go into Mrs Emile’s estate.

He said District Judge Beckley had also concluded the council was owed around £80,000 in unpaid care fees.

Judge Saggerson said that amount would be offset against the damages award – leaving the council with around £60,000 to pay.

District Judge Beckley, who hears cases in the Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered, had been told how Mrs Emile had been placed in a care home in 2008.

Court of Protection judges authorise such moves, if people lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, because they involve deprivation of liberty.

But District Judge Beckley heard that council bosses had not taken proper legal steps to ensure that any deprivation of liberty was authorised, until 2016.

Mrs Emile’s daughter had sued for “wrongful detention” and District Judge Beckley upheld the claim.

District Judge Beckley ruled Mrs Emile had lacked the mental capacity to make decisions about where she should live and had been unlawfully deprived of her liberty – between 2008 and 2016.

Lawyers representing Haringey argued that, even if Mrs Emile lacked the mental capacity to make decisions, and had been “wrongfully detained” in a care home, any failure to undertake “correct processes” to authorise her detention was “only a technical breach” of “appropriate safeguards and protocols”.

They said any damages award should have been only “nominal”.

But Judge Saggerson disagreed.

“The question on appeal is whether the award is so far off the wall or was based on inappropriate considerations such as to warrant reassessment,” he said.

“In assessing the damages the district judge was entitled to bear in mind that for nearly eight years the local authority had been unwittingly officious and had overridden properly formulated considerations of (Mrs Emile’s) best interests and the potential this yielded for trespassing on her freedom of movement…”

Judge Saggerson said Mrs Emile had historically “expressed a firm preference” not to live in a residential home.

“The district judge was not only entitled, but obliged, to take into account the fact that as a result of the local authority’s failures (Mrs Emile’s) freedom was unlawfully compromised for the greater part of the last decade of her life where less intrusive options of accommodation and care should have been considered,” he added.

“The good intentions and benign motives of the local authority are scant consolation to the person deprived of their liberty.”

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