A Court of Protection judge has taken the unusual step of ordering costs against local authorities that caused a woman to be trapped in limbo for years waiting for her case to be resolved.  Mr Justice Newton said the entire costs of proceedings in London Borough of Lambeth v MCS & Anor should be jointly met by the London Borough of Lambeth and the Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group. 

The judge acknowledged the rarity of proceedings brought in the Court of Protection being subject to a costs dispute, but insisted that where the conduct of such proceedings was so poor or incompetent that the court should be able to mark its disapproval. 

The case concerned a woman originally from Colombia who suffered a brain injury following a cardiac arrest in May 2014. 

In his substantive ruling, the judge had stated that the woman may have been ready for discharge from 2014 and had made it abundantly clear she wished to return to her home country. 

Due to what the judge described as ‘disorganised, muddled and unfocused decision making, and what has at times verged on an arrogance’, the woman has had to wait for more than three years at a cost of £2,000 a week to the taxpayer. 

The woman was able to return home in January this year, but the judge insisted that the actions of the local authorities meant a vulnerable had been kept unnecessarily miserable against her will. 

In his ruling on costs, the judge said most points made by the council and commissioning group in relation to his judgment were ‘entirely incorrect factually’. 

‘Too little intelligent professional focus was brought to bear and bring this most unhappy situation to a conclusion,’ said the judge. ‘To submit that the CCG was “throughout commendably assiduous” in seeking the return to Colombia is about as misplaced and offensive a submission as could possibly be contemplated.’ 

He acknowledged the care that was provided, and her ultimately successful repatriation, but said it was impossible to ignore the conduct that effectively ‘caged’ the woman where she was so obviously unhappy.  ‘Without hesitation I conclude that the circumstances of this case are so poor and so extreme (both in relation to institution of proceedings and their subsequent conduct) that I should make [the costs] order.’