The Law Society’s new mental capacity (welfare) accreditation scheme will provide an additional layer of protection for vulnerable people and others who are involved in Court of Protection hearings.
Floyd Porter, head of the mental health and capacity team at the law firm Miles & Partners, told the Solicitors Journal that he was extremely proud of the new scheme. Porter was its chief assessor. He said that he saw the system as a significant step towards making sure that the growing numbers of vulnerable individuals have access to the highest-quality representation.
The demand for mental capacity lawyers is increasing – thanks to the apparent increase in mind disorders such as dementia and other age-related conditions. Mental capacity lawyers and the Court of Protection want outcomes that are in the best interests of individuals who cannot make decisions for themselves. The work here helps not only clients but their families and carers too.
Mental capacity law is all the more challenging because of the emotional impact it often generates – particularly when it comes to a person’s welfare. Welfare covers more than just where a person lives, for example, or what kind of care is in their best interest. It can also extend to medical treatment issues (and this has been all over the news recently in the case of Baby Charlie Gard) such as whether it is right for a person to receive a particular kind of treatment or
operation. Financial issues are also at stake, such as who should be appointed to administer someone’s property and affairs.
Porter points out that mental capacity lawyers need to work collaboratively with colleagues – whether they are social workers, doctors or other lawyers, and even those who dispute the client’s position. Mental capacity issues are challenging and complex, and they can have long-lasting consequences.
It is, Porter admits, an “emotionally draining area of practice”. It requires clear, calm thinking and sensitivity, as well as the ability to consider something from competing perspectives and elaborate details such as medical information.
Mental capacity lawyers need particular skills to be able to serve the best interests of people who might not be able to express their wishes easily. The new mental capacity accreditation scheme will contribute substantially towards the professional development of solicitors who work in this area. It will also help people who use the Court of Protection have access to trained and accredited experts.