Book Review: Memoirs of an Incapacity Judge: “In the right place at the right time” (Gordon Ashton; available in paperback/Kindle via Amazon, 2022)

Memoirs of an Incapacity Judge: “In the right place at the right time” (Gordon Ashton; available in paperback/Kindle via Amazon, 2022).

I should start this book with a declaration of interest: I have known Gordon Ashton for many years now, and (as he records) was recruited by him to work on the Court of Protection Practice, now published by LexisNexis.   When still a judge, he was notable for his willingness to challenge orthodoxy; now in retirement, his characteristically brisk approach is even more notable, and this book makes powerful reading for anyone concerned both with the securing the rights of those with cognitive impairments, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005.  I would go almost so far as to say that the chapter on life as an incapacity judge, and the appendices gathering relevant writings (including the introductions to a number of editions of the Court of Protection Practice) should make compulsory reading for Court of Protection practitioners.  I say this because, from an uniquely informed perspective, Gordon questions whether the dream he has had of “a jurisdiction which would resolve the vacuum in decision-making for those who lack capacity […] become a reality or is it turning into a nightmare?”  I will leave readers of the book, of whom I hope there are many, to discover his conclusions in this regard, but it is a vital question.

Gordon’s memoirs are also of no little interest for the light that they shed on the “coal face” of the law – the courtrooms presided over by District Judges, who hear the vast majority of cases before both the Court of Protection and civil cases more generally, but whose judgments are rarely reported and about who too little is perhaps known.

But the book should not be taken to be a dry legal text, or a recital of legal achievements (although the achievements noted, in understated fashion, are extraordinary).  It is motivated by a driving passion, the source of which is explored in a chapter that is nearly as painful to read as it must have been to be write, above his beloved son Paul, who had a learning disability and died aged 28 in deeply troubling circumstances “due to failures of supervision” by those charged with his care.   It is not surprising that some of the most challenging questions Gordon asks in this book are those directed at the safeguards that might be thought to protect those in Paul’s situation.

I should, finally, perhaps note that all proceeds go, not to Gordon, but to Parkinson’s UK.  But the fact that this charity will benefit from your purchase is the least of the reasons for considering buying it.

[Full disclosure: I was provided with a review copy by Gordon. I am always happy to review books in the field of mental capacity and mental health law (broadly defined)

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