Reading and interpreting case law is an important part of social care practice but can be time-consuming and difficult to understand.
Research in Practice produce regular Case Law and Legal Summaries. These provide an overview and analysis of selected judgments, and highlight the implications for social care practice.
- an overview of the details
- a summary of the judgment
- implications for practice and decision making
- relevant links to wider reading and resources.
The summaries can be used to support practice, decision making and your continuing professional development.
In Using case law in social care practice: Podcast, Laura Pritchard-Jones and Tony Anyaegbu discuss the role of case law in practice. They look at examples of situations where case law has an impact, advice on balancing case law with other sources of evidence, and top tips for integrating case law into practice.
Continuing professional development (CPD)
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the reflection and learning activity that practitioners undertake throughout their career to maintain and improve their practice. It is the development of skills, knowledge, professional identity and ways of thinking, to practice safely and effectively (Interprofessional CPD and Lifelong Learning UK Working Group, 2019).
During renewal of registration with their professional body, occupational therapists and social workers need to confirm that they have met relevant CPD standards (Social Work England: The CPD standard and HCPC: Standards of CPD). All social workers and some occupational therapists also need to submit a CPD record. You could reflect on learning from Case Law and Legal Summaries to support your CPD record. This could include:
- Discussing a recent judgment with a colleague and reflecting on the way it will impact your practice.
- Bringing a legal summary to a team meeting and discussing the key dilemmas and how they were resolved.
- Holding group supervision and using recent case law as part of your discussion. This could be as part of discussions about a particular dilemma facing a member of the team.
- Reading a recent legal summary and reflecting on the implications for your practice.
- Organising a journal club or reading group.
For further support, our dedicated CPD page contains helpful information on best practice to maintain and renew your record.
Children and families
You can read an overview of judgments from this year, with links to more details including their impact on social care practice. These have covered topics including children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers, family time between parents and children, instructing experts in the Family Court, making decisions about adoption, holding fact-finding hearings, and appealing against orders.
Key children and families summaries
Three recent judgments highlighted in our Case Law and Legal Summaries have focused on fact-finding hearings:
This judgment was published to set out expectations and best practice to prevent potential carers for a child being identified late in proceedings. The judge stated that the responsibility to nominate relative carers should not fall primarily upon the parents. He identified elements of best practice, including;
- Consideration of potential alternative carers should begin at the earliest possible opportunity, where possible during the pre-proceedings process.
- The local authority should commence construction of a full and detailed ‘genogram’ as early as possible to identify the relatives and relationships that may:
- Assist in meeting the needs of the child(ren) so as to avoid care proceedings.
- Be candidates for providing alternative care for the child(ren) so as to avoid temporary foster care or ultimately adoption.
- Family group conferences are helpful to identify support and potential alternative carers.
The judge also highlighted best practice for sharing information with potential alternative carers and best practice for Cumbria.
The question of credibility was central to this case which concerned allegations of sexual abuse. The judgment referred to the Lucas principle, which states that when a person lies about one thing it does not automatically follow that they are lying about everything.
The Lucas principle was described by the Court of Appeal as follows:
that people lie for all sorts of reasons, including shame, humiliation, misplaced loyalty, panic, fear, distress, confusion and emotional pressure and the fact that somebody lies about one thing does not mean it actually did or did not happen and / or that they have lied about everything.
The judgment showed how it is important for the court to establish whether a person’s dishonesty about one aspect of the evidence is relevant to the central facts of the case.
Struggling to be believed and facing attacks on credibility are some of the many challenges sexual abuse victims face during legal processes. The Lucas principle is important for protecting vulnerable witnesses and ensuring just outcomes.
You can read an overview of judgments from this year, with links to more details including their impact on social care practice. These have covered topics including lasting power of attorney, advance decisions, deprivation of liberty, making best interest decisions, and assessing mental capacity including when capacity appears to fluctuate.
Key adults summaries
This judgment contains a detailed analysis of the power of the court to make interim orders when ‘there is reason to believe’ that someone lacks mental capacity but there is not enough evidence to conclusively find they lack capacity. In this example, the local authority was unable to access the person to make a capacity assessment. This is the clearest published guidance on when the Court of Protection is likely to make an interim order, so practitioners who are likely to be involved in applications to the court may find this useful.
The Court of Protection recognised an order by the High Court of the Republic of Ireland placing a woman with anorexia nervosa at a specialist eating disorder unit in London for treatment. This judgment gives legal guidance on the transfer of people without mental capacity from other jurisdictions.
This is a very complicated area of law; and this case is very helpful for anyone who wishes to understand it. In particular, it contains the full text of the Irish judgment and English court order in addition to the English judgment and blank checklist. As a result, it is probably the only place where a discussion of the law is illustrated by a complete example of its operation in practice.
The Court of Protection restricted contact between a woman with schizophrenia and her mother due to ‘overwhelming’ evidence that the contact was harmful to her. Practitioners sometimes have to face situations in which the behaviour of a person’s family can raise more difficult challenges than caring for the person. It is important in such situations to remain rational and proportionate; and this case is an extremely good example.
Each step of the local authority's argument was underpinned by evidence; and, despite a relatively extreme situation, it argued for a reduction in contact as opposed to its complete suspension. Practitioners who might be in a similar situation and senior practitioners, who will usually support other staff in these situations, could benefit from reading this short but well-written judgment.
The Court of Protection has published two other judgments related to this woman, a judgment about her residence and a judgment about a suspended prison sentence for her mother, who breached injunctions from the Court Protection. This series of three published judgments could provide valuable learning for practitioners engaged in advanced study, especially if they have an interest in situations that involve complex family relationships. The judgments cover a wide area of law, but do so clearly and in the context of a detailed concrete situation.