Family lawyers work hand in hand with local authorities and medical professionals to protect vulnerable people from the controlling and coercive behaviour of others. In a striking case on point, the High Court authorised effective steps to be taken to free a mentally ill woman from the bonds of a cruel and corrosive relationship.
The 60-year-old woman, who suffers from bipolar affective disorder, was in a parlous and emaciated state when she was detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. Inquiries established that she had been living with a man who had subjected her to an abusive, exploitative and coercive regime which conflicted on every level with her welfare. His behaviour had a sadistic component and, amongst other things, he made her smash her piano so that she could no longer play and restricted her food intake to salad and a single potato a day.
She had been resident in a mental health unit for about three years, but continued to express her wish to return home to live with the man, whom she viewed as her long-term partner and had a strong desire to please. In those circumstances, the local authority that bore responsibility for her care applied to the Court for a declaration that she lacked the mental capacity to make important decisions for herself.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that she is a charming, accomplished woman who inspires affection. However, she was intensely vulnerable and the evidence that she would benefit greatly from a complete cessation of the relationship was compelling. The Court was entirely satisfied that she lacked capacity to take decisions relating to her contact with the man, where she should live and the extent of the care she requires.
The Court noted that it did not go lightly against the clear and consistently expressed wishes and feelings of an incapacitated person. However, were she permitted to resume living with the man, she would be exposed to a regime of insidious control which would be corrosive of her autonomy and entirely irreconcilable with her best interests.
The Court's decision opened the way for the creation of a comprehensive plan to govern her future care with a view to her eventual discharge into the community. The local authority also undertook to use its best endeavours to achieve the man's eviction from her home.