Court of Protection reporting breakthrough

The media has been allowed to report on a private hearing at the Court of Protection for what is believed to be the first time.

A judge in the Court of Protection has allowed journalists to report on a hearing over whether a local authority unlawfully detained a 21-year-old autistic man by keeping him in a care unit and refusing to allow him to return home.

It is believed to be the first time the media has been allowed to report on anything from a Court of Protection hearing that has been held entirely in private.

Previously, journalists have only been able to report on Court of Protection cases if hearings were held at least partially in public, or on the basis of anonymised or redacted judgments handed down after hearings.

The decision by Mr Justice Peter Jackson last Friday followed an application by five media groups - The Independent, The Times, Guardian News and Media, the BBC and the Press Association - represented by barrister Guy Vassall-Adams.

Justice Jackson reserved judgment after hearing evidence about a dispute over the care of Steven Neary, of Uxbridge, London.

During a week-long hearing at the Court of Protection he heard how Neary's father Mark, had been involved in a care battle with the London Borough of Hillingdon for more than a year.

Lawyers said the dispute started after Steven Neary went into a "positive behaviour unit" in December 2009.

Mark Neary told the court that he viewed the move as temporary - and thought his son would be home by late January 2010.

The council said care staff had concerns about Steven Neary's "challenging" behaviour and weight - and argued that the move was intended to be for a longer period.

He had stayed at the unit for about a year, returning to his father's home in December 2010 following a court order.

Justice Jackson must biw decide whether Hillingdon council's use of a "deprivation of liberty" order unlawfully deprived Mr Neary of his freedom - and decide or agree arrangements for Mr Neary's future care.

The Court of Protection, which deals with issues surrounding vulnerable people, normally sits in private.

Earlier this year Justice Jackson ruled that journalists could attend hearings about Neary and that parties involved could be identified.

Speaking after last week's hearing, Romana Canetti, an in-house lawyer with The Independent who co-ordinated and organised the media's application for permission to attend and report on the hearings, said the decision represented a small step forward in openness for the Court of Protection.

"We think this is the first time the media has been allowed to report anything from a private hearing in the Court of Protection," she said.

"The door has been opened another little crack."

She also warned the media still faced difficulties in attending hearings, which meant spending time and resources without any certainty they would be able to report anything.

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