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Court of Protection extends reporting restrictions in high-profile capacity case

National newspapers seek to name woman who did not want to become ‘poor’, ‘ugly’ or ‘old’

17 December 2015

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The Court of Protection has extended a reporting restriction order prohibiting the naming of the woman known as 'C' who was recently found to have the mental capacity to refuse life-saving medical treatment.

On 9 December, the court extended the order forbidding the identification of C and her family, which also halts the publishing of any photographs that would likely lead to their identification.

The background to the case drew widespread media attention earlier this month following a failed attempt by King's College Hospital NHS Trust to prove C did not have the capacity to refuse kidney dialysis treatment.

Handed down on 30 November, Justice MacDonald's judgment included a detailed account of C's life and evidence given by her daughters, which was described by MacDonald J as having been provided 'with great dignity'.

'She has said the most important thing for her is her sparkly lifestyle,' said one daughter. 'She kept saying she doesn't want to live without her sparkle and she thinks she has lost her sparkle.'

The judgment described C as being 'impulsive' and 'self-centred', while one daughter said her mother did not want to be 'poor', 'ugly', or 'old'. MacDonald J made it clear, however, that his decision did no more than 'confirm that in law C is entitled to refuse the treatment'.

C died on 28 November. A reporting restriction order had been place by Mr Justice Moor to last during C's lifetime. The extent of the media interest had not been anticipated by the family. Approximately 150 articles were published in the regional, national, and international press within a matter of days.

A significant proportion of the articles centred on C's lifestyle and relationship history, as well as incorrectly describing the issue before the court as whether C had a 'right to die'.

The Guardian's headline read, 'Court grants woman right to die after 'losing her sparkle'. The Telegraph's read, 'Right-to-die socialite was diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder'. The Independent went with 'Socialite who lost her 'sparkle' has the right to die, court rules'. While the Times wrote, 'Fading socialite who took overdose has right to die, court rules'.

According to lawyers acting for the family, around 40 of C's friends were contacted by journalists and photographs of C and her daughters were obtained via private social media accounts.

On 2 December, an application was made to prevent C being named. Mrs Justice Theis extended the order previously made for seven days holding that C's family would be at risk of harm if she was identified, and there was no public interest in identifying her or the family.

At the hearing on 9 December, the Daily Mail, the Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Independent sought to argue that there was public interest in C being named. However, Mr Justice Charles said he 'struggled' with their proposition. Charles J has, however, given the media the opportunity to file evidence setting out why it is in the public interest for C to be named and has reserved judgment until their evidence is received.

Laura Hobey-Hamsher, a solicitor at Bindmans who represents C's daughter, said: 'Two weeks ago, a 50-year-old woman who had three daughters and a grandchild died. That needs to be remembered, as do the reasons behind the decisions of Mrs Justice Theis and Mr Justice Charles.

'This is not about stifling genuine public debate, but about balancing the risk of harm to C's family were her identity to be revealed, against the public interest in doing so. To date, no evidence from any of the newspapers who object to the ongoing order setting this out has been received.'

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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