Law Lords Deny Elderly Rights

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Yesterday’s House of Lords judgement fails vulnerable older people, says Help the Aged.

The charity was responding to the decision by the House of Lords in YL v Birmingham City Council and Others.

This was a legal challenge, brought on behalf of an 83-year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer, who was asked to leave her care home because of her husband and daughter’s allegedly disruptive behaviour, which sought specifically to protect the human rights of elderly people placed by the government in private care homes. 

By a narrow majority (3-2), the House of Lords Appellate Committee ruled against Human Rights Act protection of elderly people housed (at public expense) in privately run residential care homes.

The reasoning seems to have been largely that private care providers are motivated by profit and governed by contract rather than public service values.

Help the Aged head of public affairs, Kate Jopling, commented on the Law Lords’ decision not to overturn the ‘Leonard Cheshire loophole’ in the Human Rights Act.

She said: ‘The disappointing decision today is a sickening blow to older people and their families everywhere.

‘The vast majority of vulnerable older people receive their care from the private or voluntary sectors.

‘Today they remain without protection from abuses of their most basic human rights.

‘Their Lordships’ decision leaves vulnerable older people open to neglect, abuse and eviction, without redress through the Human Rights Act.’

Jopling added: ‘The government ought to rectify this horrendous anomaly through legislation.

‘It is essential that care home residents in the private and voluntary sector, both self funders and those funded by the state, are given the same level of human rights protection as those in local authority homes.

‘The legal system has failed vulnerable older people. The government must not.’

GMB trade union National Officer Sharon Holder said: ‘This situation is utterly ridiculous and the government should change the law.

‘Elderly people in residential care must be treated with care and dignity.

‘The idea that their rights are compromised because their local authority provides their care through a private residential home rather than one operated by the council is quite ridiculous.

‘Hundreds of thousands of care home residents and their families will now be fearful of their future and Government should step in and sort this out to give peace of mind to this vulnerable section of society.’

Anna Fairclough (the lawyer who handled human rights group Liberty’s intervention in the case) said: ‘We are very disappointed by today’s majority decision.’

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham and Baroness Hale of Richmond gave dissenting speeches.

Lord Bingham said: ‘That the British state has accepted a social welfare responsibility in this regard in the last resort can hardly be a matter of debate. (para 15)

‘When the 1998 Act was passed, it was well known that a number of functions formerly carried out by public authorities were now carried out by private bodies.’ (para 20)

 Lady Hale said: ‘. . . there is a close connection between this service and the core values underlying the Convention rights and the undoubted risk that rights will be violated unless steps are taken to protect them.’ (para 71)