I am Alex Ruck Keene. I have been in practice at 39 Essex Chambers in London since 2003 and specialise in the field of mental capacity and mental health law. For full details of my practice, please see my Chambers webpage. This site, however, exists not to promote my practice, but rather my passions.
That having been said, you may want to know a little about why it is that I think that I am allowed to speak with some authority about the law relating to mental capacity.
In March 2022, I became an Honorary QC, reflecting the the work that I have done in relation to the development of mental capacity and mental health law outside the courtroom. Before then, I had been recognised for several years by the legal directories as an expert in this field, and was singled out as one of the ‘star juniors’ in the Court of Protection Health and Welfare category by Chambers and Partners. I have been instructed by individuals (including on behalf of the Official Solicitor), NHS bodies and local authorities, and I am one of the very few practitioners who has experience of appearing/advising upon all aspects of the Court of Protection’s jurisdiction (i.e. health and welfare and property and affairs, as well as its international jurisdiction). I have been instructed in cases involving the MCA 2005 at all levels up to and including the Supreme Court, in which I have appeared in Aintree University Hospitals NHS Trust v James  UKSC 67  3 WLR 1299, the first case in which the Supreme Court considered the MCA 2005; N v ACCG  UKSC 22, considering the interaction between the Court of Protection and the Administrative Court; Re Y  UKSC 46, about when it is necessary to bring cases concerning life-sustaining treatment to court; Re D  UKSC 42, about the confinement and medical treatment of 16 and 17 year olds with impaired capacity; and A Local Authority v JB  UKSC 52, the first case in which the Supreme Court addressed the test for capacity under the MCA 2005. I have also been instructed in cases concerning mental capacity and mental health before the European Court of Human Rights: RB v United Kingdom (Decision of 12 September 2017, DOLS and Article 5 ECHR) and Munjaz v United Kingdom  ECHR 1704 (seclusion and Articles 5/8 ECHR). I have also been instructed in other ground-breaking cases exploring the limits of the Court of Protection’s jurisdiction – a good example being Re MN  COPLR Con Vol 893, the first case in which the international jurisdiction of the Court was the subject of detailed examination.
Whilst I relish the challenges of defining and applying the law in the courtroom, I have increasingly realised that my real passion is the promotion of better practice and better knowledge of the MCA 2005 and mental capacity law more generally. To that end, I write extensively:
- Together with Victoria Butler-Cole QC, I set up a monthly Mental Capacity Law Report which is now widely distributed amongst legal practitioners, members of the judiciary, clinical and social work professionals, advocates, and others concerned with the MCA 2005. We now edit it with Neil Allen, Annabel Lee, Katie Scott, Nicola Kohn, Rachel Sullivan, Stephanie David, and Simon Edwards, colleagues from my Chambers, and two Scottish experts, Adrian Ward and Jill Stavert. The Report is available free here, where you can also find a searchable database of our case comments. It has been described by Chambers & Partners as a ‘bible’ for solicitors working in the area, and was the subject of judicial endorsement by the former President of the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby (see paragraph 21 of this judgment).
- A selection of my papers and articles on the MCA 2005 is available here.
- For my books, see here.
I have dedicated an increasing amount of time to working on policy matters. To this end, I helped develop the new procedures for handling applications concerning deprivation of liberty following April 2009, sat on the committee established in 2010 by the President of the Family Division to review the Court of Protection Rules, and continue to sit on the ad hoc Rules committee. In November 2013, I gave oral evidence to House of Lords Select Committee considering the operation of the MCA 2005 as part of a panel of legal experts; in February 2014 I was commissioned by the Department of Health to produce guidance for non-legal professional advocates and family members considering acting as litigation friends in proceedings before the Court of Protection; and in March 2018 gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its inquiry into reform of the deprivation of liberty safeguards. I have been appointed to the Mental Health and Disability Committees of the Law Societies both of England and Scotland (the first such appointment). I was appointed a consultant to the Law Commission’s major project on reforming the law relating to mental capacity and deprivation of liberty, which published its report in March 2017. Throughout 2018, I was legal adviser to the independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983, chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely. I have been on working groups both for the revision of the main MCA Code of Practice and the drafting of the new LPS Code. I am on the leadership group for the National Mental Capacity Forum led by Baroness Ilora Finlay. I have been heavily involved in local and national policy development in relation to the application of the MCA 2005 in COVID-19, including as Specialist Adviser to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its inquiry into the human rights implications of the Government’s response to COVID-19 (see here for its report published in September 2020). I am currently the Specialist Adviser to the Committee for its inquiry into human rights in care settings.
The final string to my bow (or ingredient in the cocktail) is the educational work that I do in relation to the MCA 2005. I spend a significant proportion of my time lecturing and training lawyers, members of the judiciary, clinicians, social workers and others concerned with the MCA 2005. I am a Wellcome Research Fellow at Kings College London (working on the major Mental Health and Justice project) and a Research Affiliate at the Essex Autonomy Project. I am also, increasingly, involved in the education of future generations of lawyers and clinicians, seeking to instil in them something of my knowledge of and enthusiasm for the Act. As a Visiting Professor, I co-lead the Mental Health, Ethics and the Law MSc at King’s College London, am Visiting Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, and I have been a guest lecturer at courses at Queen Mary University of London, Keele University and Auckland University (New Zealand).
Header image: taken from ‘Breath’ by Aliki Braine (www.alikibraine.com)