A secret court is controlling £2billion of assets of thousands of elderly and mentally impaired people and paying them a paltry rate of interest, the Mail reveals today. The controversial actions of the Court of Protection, which one MP has criticised as ‘bordering on malpractice’, are supposed to uphold the interests of 16,000 vulnerable people – but many claim they destroy the value of savings. Here SUE REID tells the story of Neil Barker, a successful businessman whose finances have been at the mercy of the court since he was injured in a horrific accident.
Neil Barker is, in many ways, a lucky man. At 36, he has a loving girlfriend, Valeria, a five-bedroom house overlooking the park in a smart West London suburb — and he’s made a dramatic recovery from a motorbike crash ten years ago which left him with brain injuries.
All he wants to do is to get on with his life as a successful computer consultant and property restorer — without interference from the State.
But a huge sum of his money is lying in a State bank account controlled by a hidden corner of the legal system: the astonishingly powerful Court of Protection, which has decreed that Neil’s accident means he lacks the mental capacity to handle his own financial affairs.
The CoP has draconian and sweeping powers. Judges, sitting alone and in secrecy, deal with thousands of cases a year, making far-reaching rulings about almost every aspect of citizens’ lives — and often those of their relatives, too.
They can compel people to undergo surgery, use contraception or have abortions.
Equally controversially, the CoP judges can authorise what are called Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS), which allow council or NHS officials to restrain someone in a hospital, care home or re-training facility for as long as the State deems it to be ‘in their best interests’.
The Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who is campaigning for more openness in the CoP, estimates that there are hundreds of these ‘secret prisoners’ across the country.