Many frail and vulnerable people have an antipathy to institutional care and wish for nothing more than to stay in their own homes. That may not always be feasible but, as a Court of Protection ruling showed, judges pay the greatest respect to their freedom of choice.
The case concerned a 92-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease. After her husband's death, she continued to inhabit the family home where she had lived for 40 years. Her son, who had Asperger's syndrome and had been diagnosed with a hoarding disorder, gave up work to look after her.
After social workers and others expressed concern about the cluttered and dirty state of the property, the local authority launched proceedings. It argued that it would be in the woman's best interests for her to move to a temporary respite placement so that the property could be decluttered and cleaned.
That application was, however, overtaken by events. In response to a call from the woman, the emergency services attended her home and transferred her to hospital. She was subsequently moved to a care home but had since consistently expressed a wish to return home. Her local authority, however, contended that her welfare demanded that the care home placement be made permanent.
Following a hearing, the Court was not satisfied that such a placement would, at this stage, be an appropriate and justifiable interference with her human right to respect for her home and family life. There was no doubting the strength of her attachment to her home, which gave her a sense of belonging and a connection to the past, and of her desire to be reunited with her son and her pet cat. Her expressed wishes were both entirely understandable and magnetically important.
The Court directed that arrangements be made to enable her return home for a 10-week trial period, to see if she could cope outside an institutional setting. Such a course was not without hazards but, with appropriate precautions and a care package in place, the risk was manageable. The Court paid tribute to the very fine work done by all the professionals involved in the case.