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Court of Protection: Prison Sentence for Contempt of Court

In recent months the case of Wanda Maddocks has hit the headlines for being, supposedly, the first publically known case of someone given a prison sentence for Contempt of Court by the Court of Protection. Mrs Maddocks served 6 weeks of her 5 month sentence, before being released.

This case began when Mrs Maddocks' father, Mr Maddocks, was diagnosed with Alzheimers and, also suffering from vascular dementia, was admitted to a care home. Mrs Maddocks' beliefs and opinions conflicted with that of the nursing home and the local authority, however. At one point she 'broke him out' and took him to Turkey, where she was living at the time. They eventually returned to Stoke-on-Trent and Mr Maddocks was admitted to a different care home.

The local authority took action to prevent any further incidents from occurring and applied for a court order at the Court of Protection. Mrs Maddocks and her family disagreed resulting in a dispute in deciding who should be responsible for decisions as to Mr Maddocks' care. The case resulted in a hearing to review the circumstances. The court ordered that Mr Maddocks was to remain in a care home, as they believed the proposals put forward by his family were inadequate.

During this hearing, Mrs Maddocks involvement was questioned. However, she was not present despite the court having served her notice to attend and face questions. She evaded service of the application and did not attend, despite frequent attempts to inform her. As a result she was sentenced for Contempt of Court in a formal committal proceeding.

Judge Cardinal, stated that he was left with no choice but to hand down this sentence, by virtue of the following reasons:

  • She had tried to publicise the case;
  • She had arranged for Mr Maddocks to be taken to a court hearing, causing him to become distressed;
  • She had taken Mr Maddocks to see a solicitor;
  • She harassed and was abusive to employees of the local authority and care home;
  • She consistently breached court orders and, unless restrained by a severe measure, had no intention of obeying the court orders herself;
  • Her actions were causing her father distress and considerable grief.

It was reported in the Daily Mail that Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for social services, Councillor Gwen Hassall, said: "This is clearly an extreme case, but one that the Court of Protection supported the council on. It was the court's decision to issue a custodial sentence to Wanda Maddocks. Our chief concern was always centred around the welfare of her father, who was suffering from a deteriorating condition and required 24-hour supervision in a stable environment. This was a decision reached by medical consultants, geriatricians, social workers, community psychiatric nurses, dieticians, consultant health and nursing professions and others who were involved in assessing his needs".

This case demonstrates the lengths that the Court of Protection will go to ensure that its orders are taken seriously and obeyed. It shows that the court will make forceful decisions to safeguard those who cannot protect themselves and provides security for those involved in caring for vulnerable people.

However, this case has also raised a number of questions in relation to the nature of legal proceedings resulting in custodial sentences. Court proceedings in the Court of Protection are held in private, with only the parties and those closely involved, due to the sensitive nature of the matters dealt with. Committal hearings are held in public. Mrs Maddocks' eventual hearing was open to the public, bringing into question the appropriateness of these proceedings, given the private nature of many of the circumstances leading up to them. One must question whether Mrs Maddocks is, in fact, the first person to be sentenced in this way, or simply the first person that has been sentenced in a public forum. If we believe the latter situation to be true, we must ask ourselves whether this is a change for the better. On the one hand it makes a public stance, on behalf of the Court of Protection, ensuring that the public is aware of the lengths that they will go to get the best outcome for their 'protectee'. On the other hand, however, we must also question whether releasing these personal details to the public cancels out this benefit.

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