New Law Commission chairman planning to reform adult social care law

The Law Commission is planning ‘very important and potentially very exciting’ reforms to the law on social care for adults, the commission’s new chairman said in an interview for the Gazette.

Sir James Munby, who now sits in the Court of Appeal as Lord Justice Munby, disclosed that the government’s law reform advisers were planning to publish a major consultation paper on the subject in February.

He said that adult social care law was a ‘hotchpotch’ of 30 statutes going back to the National Assistance Act 1948, which uses outdated language such as ‘dumb and crippled persons’ and ‘suffer[ing] from congenital deformity’.

‘The law is widely recognised as a jumble,’ Sir James continued, ‘and some of the legislation is inconsistent with itself. Social workers have to look at dozens of acts of parliament and volumes of ministerial guidance. The training costs alone must be substantial.’

Under the commission’s plans, all these statutes would be replaced with a new framework that should be easier to understand and cheaper to administer.

The commission calculates that reform would lead to ‘very significant cost savings’, for both central government and local government, without affecting the level of services provided. However, Sir James could not predict whether any of these savings would be used to fund more services. ‘That’s nothing to do with me,’ he said.

The Law Commission chairman also promised a consultation paper next summer on whether pre-nuptial agreements should be made enforceable in England and Wales. Agreements on what should happen to a couple’s property in the event of divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership are binding in many other countries.

‘I have quite an open mind on this,’ Sir James said. He suspected that views would differ on whether there was a need for reform at all. Some people might regard legislation as inappropriate while others believe that judges are already giving effect to such agreements when making financial awards on divorce.