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Judge rules against decision that restricted family’s access to disabled man

A trust in Northern Ireland wrongly used guardianship powers in a dispute over restricting contact between a severely disabled man and his family, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.

Mr Justice Treacy delivered a scathing assessment of how the unidentified authority acted in the case where relatives also opposed suggested drugs and feeding recommendations.

At one stage, the 45-year-old man's mother was handcuffed and removed by police after being refused permission to take him on an outing without a tube being inserted into his stomach.

Ruling on legal proceedings brought by the man, who cannot be named, the judge said guardianship did not permit one side in a dispute about the management of a vulnerable patient “to assert a borrowed primacy over any other party's legitimate but conflicting interest.”

He stated: “In effect, the Trust took on guardianship powers to give itself a determinative role in a dispute with a family and clothe itself with powers which it alleged vested it with sufficient authority to defeat the family's interest. It is quite clear that this is not what guardianship is for and that the Trust was wrong in seeking to use guardianship for this purpose.”

The man developed cerebral palsy as a child, suffers low muscle tone and is at risk of choking on inappropriate food.

At the time judicial review proceedings were brought, he had been a voluntary patient in his current nursing home for 14 years.

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Relatives visited him regularly, took him out at weekends and included him on their holidays.

But a row developed between the family and some carers over medication and feeding.

Relationships hit a new low in December 2009 when the Trust decided to restrict the family's contact with their son. The move resulted in the man's visits to the family home either stopping or being severely reduced.

He applied for judicial review on the grounds that the Trust did not have legal authority to restrict him from leaving the home unless supervised by staff.

The Trust argued that it took guardianship powers because of medical evidence that there was a significant risk of the man choking if given inappropriate food.

Mr Justice Treacy held that neither side in the conflict had handled it well. With the family and carers now having made their peace, he declined to make any order at this stage. Legal costs were awarded to the man.

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