Woman with learning difficulties not to be told about covert contraception

A woman with learning difficulties should not be told that she has been covertly fitted with a contraceptive device, a judge has decided.

Lord Justice Baker said the woman’s personal autonomy and human rights had been infringed when the device was fitted without her knowledge six years ago.

But he has concluded that the device should remain and says telling her about it would harm relationships with people she depends on.

He said the issue would need to be kept under review.

The judge had analysed the woman’s case at a hearing in the specialist Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered, in London.

He has outlined his decision in a written ruling.

Another Court of Protection judge had approved the covert fitting of the device in 2012 after social workers raised concern about the woman being vulnerable and a target for sexual exploitation.

Lord Justice Baker said he had reviewed the latest evidence and been asked to decide a number of issues – including whether telling the woman about the device would be in her best interests.

The judge, who heard evidence from social services staff, medics and relatives, has not identified the woman.

He said she was “young”.

“I recognise that the fact that (she) has been fitted with (the device) without her knowledge is a very significant interference with her personal autonomy and her human rights,” he said.

“Given that it is plainly in her best interests for the (device) to remain fitted, however, I reach the clear conclusion that she should not be told about the presence of (it) at this stage.

“I accept the argument that to do so would cause very considerable harm to her relationships with professionals and her family on whom she is utterly dependent.

“I acknowledge the risk of inadvertent disclosure but agree that it should be possible to manage this risk through a robust health action plan.”

He added: “It has to be recognised, however, that in all probability this state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. Covert treatment should only be countenanced in exceptional circumstances. When the time comes for the (device) to be renewed or replaced, every effort will have to be made to include (her) in the decision-making process about future contraception.”

The judge was based in the Family Division of the High Court when he analysed the case earlier this year and was known as Mr Justice Baker.

He has recently been promoted to the Court of Appeal and is now titled Lord Justice Baker.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Nick Ansell / PA Wire.