On the foulest of mornings at the start of last November, counsel set off from Cardiff at hideous o’clock bound for Telford and a dispute resolution hearing in a deputyship application in the Court of Protection (COP).
Don’t ask me why this event took place in Telford. It was marginally less inconvenient for our septuagenarian client who had to travel from Gloucester. The only thing that doesn’t call for much explanation is the fact that there was no sortie from this office in the darkness, wind and (copious) rain.
It all seemed worthwhile. Counsel – and others involved – did an admirable job of achieving agreement on all matters except the costs which in turn all agreed to leave open for further argument. Meanwhile, a fairly acrimonious dispute between three sisters about the welfare of their ageing mother took a big step towards conclusion.
Counsel was required to perfect, agree with our opponents and email to the court a very long draft order that same day.
After waiting (perhaps too) patiently five weeks for the court to print the order that everyone including the judge had agreed and apply a seal to it, we wrote on 14 December to ask what had happened to it. We had a nice email telling us that it had been referred to the judge on 9 November and they had received no reply.
“However, looking at your email it was already stated that the order had been approved by the DJ…”
There followed the reassurance that the court had “moved the order to urgent tops” with the hope that they would “draw (??) and send the order out by no later than..” 21 December.
Naturally we chased again at the beginning of this week. Then comes the explanation that, apparently, they are not allowed to “emboss” an order in Birmingham. It has to go to London for this complex procedure to be performed.
I suppose I should be thankful that we are actually getting communications direct from the court at the moment. Since this case was transferred to the Midlands Regional Hub the court office has consistently ignored the fact and reminders that we went on record at the start of proceedings (the London office got that right too) and insisted on sending notices by post to our client.
On the first occasion, in July, the notice was unseen for a period of three weeks because our client was away from home. The upshot was that we had a week’s notice of the first hearing and yet had to go to the expense of a formal application to adjourn to the beginning of October. That hearing was later adjourned at a week’s notice for we don’t know what reason.
It all creates unnecessary expense and worry for the children of the patient who themselves are of advancing years and prefer not to have to travel half way up and down the country at short notice. There’s also the delay of many months before the financial affairs of the patient can be dealt with. Even now we don’t have the essential deputyship order two months after the agreed draft was filed by email ready to print.
Far and away the greatest share of responsibility for the delay, expense and frustration rests with The Court Service. I am sure that at Birmingham, as elsewhere, there are well-meaning and capable people – good people – who are doing their best and I intend no criticism of them for that.
I do intend criticism of the MOJ, and the government, for emasculating a service which in consequence is not providing the protection it should to the increasing numbers of our ageing population.