Book Review: Dementia and the Law

Dementia and the Law: Tony Harrop-Griffiths, Jonathan Cowen, Christine Cooper, Rhys Hadden, Angela Hodes, Victoria Flowers, Steven Fuller (Jordans, 2014, £55)

This new work deals with many of the very specific problems faced by those caring for, treating, or seeking to advise and assist those with dementia. In some ways, it is quite a similar book in its approach to that I reviewed last month, the second edition of Elderly People and the Law. Both books seek to set out a tour d’horizon of the various legal issues that arise in relation to a particular category or class of person. In this case, it is those with dementia.

There are many advantages to this sort of approach. For a start, it reflects reality. After all, a lawyer asked to give advice in relation to a person with dementia will need to have at least a broad overview of the main issues that are likely to arise. For instance, they will need to know something, at least, about the sort of assessments that the individual clients might have to undergo for the purposes of receiving social care. They will also they will also need to know at least the outlines of how it is that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 will be of relevance both before and after the point at which the client loses capacity to take their own decisions in relation to their property and affairs and in relation to their health and welfare.

This book seeks to provide such a guide. Its chapters cover a broad range of topics, for instance the right to assessments; NHS care and treatment; local authority care; funding care services; challenging decisions and making complaints; as well as a particularly helpful set of chapters on the Administrative Court and the Court of Protection.

Although for the most part this is an excellent book, judiciously balancing the need for width of coverage with adequate detail to highlight specific points, there are a few oddities that I must point out.

In particular, starting to work with a chapter on accessing rights of personal information (whilst a decision explained in the preface) is perhaps not the most obvious jumping-off point.   Further, and whilst I accept that I may have at the moment become slightly obsessed by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I was perhaps a little surprised I could not find a mention of the Convention in the work. It poses dramatic challenges to the way in which we approach those with dementia. Whilst it is not yet is implemented in domestic legislation, it has been used by both by our courts and by Strasbourg as an aid to construction. It is also clear that there are very real issues as regards the compatibility of the MCA 2005 and the CRPD. I hope that in the second edition of this book it would be possible to include discussion of this important Convention.

A second edition of this book well, I hope, be forthcoming in relatively short order. This is because much of the law relating to social care in England (and indeed in Wales) is shortly to undergo radical changes. In England, we have just seen Royal Assent given to the Care Act 2014.  As its provisions come into force, the landscape will look very different. The authors have done a heroic job of trying to anticipate some of these changes by reference to the Care Bill as it stood at the point when the text was being prepared. But they were, inevitably, unable to include coverage of the full detail of what became of the Act.

In the next edition of the book, I also hope that it may prove possible to include a chapter from a psychiatrist to give a clinical perspective on the issues posed by dementia. This would be the icing on the cake, because the book does not purport to be a clinical textbook, but rather a legal guide. But ‘dementia’ is a short-hand, and lawyers in my experience could often usefully do with having some of its nuances teased out from a clinical perspective.

Overall, however, and despite these minor quibbles, this book is immensely helpful. The authors, all practicing barristers, are to be congratulated on pulling together so much useful information in so clear an overview of these critical areas of the law through the prism of the needs of so vulnerable a group of individuals.

Full disclosure: I am very grateful to Jordans for providing me with a copy of this for purposes of this (unpaid) review

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