Posted on 24th May 2019 by Russell Caller

Chairman's Soapbox - could the Court do more to support deputies?

An interesting event happened to me recently when I appeared before HHJ David Vavrecka in Watford County Court which I want to share with you. I am the Deputy for a young man who has Cerebral Palsy. The father of the young man in question was removed as Attorney for his son approximately 5 years ago for misuse of P’s funds after a lengthy OPG investigation. There remained very few assets left (notwithstanding there had been a substantial settlement 10 years previously).

I carried out detailed due diligence on how best to retrieve the situation for the young man so we could have funds available for him in the medium term. My best interests decision was to downsize the home. The family fought me “tooth and nail” on this and so I decided that instead of going into conflict with the family I would seek directions from the court. The court dismissed my application on the basis that I am the Deputy and I must decide how to proceed myself.

So I decided there was no point in trying to force a sale through against the family’s wishes as they would simply apply to have me discharged on the basis of “breakdown of the relationship between Deputy and the family”. We all know that the judge in the COP will simply discharge me and appoint another poor soul as Deputy!

So to avoid the wasted costs of P by going into conflict I made an application to retire for the appointment of a new Deputy but the family, of course, wanted a tame friend to be appointed! Outside the court the family reluctantly agreed to a new panel Deputy to be appointed.

I went in to court with the non COP practitioner representing the family (without the family being in court) to advise the judge and what happened next was something that has never happened to me before. The Judge wanted to know why had “ I thrown in the towel” so easily. The Judge admitted he had never been in a COP practice and so was oblivious to what we all know happens when there is a breakdown in communication between Deputy and the family. The Judge gave me licence to address him about the realities of COP practice. I did not hold back and advised him of the following:

1. The court, in dismissing my directions application, was naive in thinking that the family would just agree to the down-sizing without the court specifically authorising it!

2.  The COP rarely supports the Deputy where there is a “breakdown in relationship” situation. The court ignores the fact that the Deputy is a specialist in the area and has approached the Court as a last resort.

3. Many judges hearing COP cases are District Judges in the County Court and they  do not understand the difficulties of COP work in practice!

4. What is required is a review of how COP judges are trained. Could not for instance COP practitioners be encouraged to take part in judicial training? Are there any other ways in which the insights and experience of practitioners could be harnessed by the courts?

HHJ David Vavrecka listened intently and accepted there were significant deficiencies in the system. He said he was involved in the training of new Judges and would immediately, after our hearing, take these thoughts back to the Senior Judge for her to consider. He asked whether I would be willing to meet and discuss these issues with him and other judges. I said I would with pleasure!

I was proud to inform him that this was one of the reasons why the Professional Deputies Forum had been formed. He took the details of The PDF and said he was very interested in this and would be in touch - we must now wait and see!

Rarely (if ever) have I had the opportunity to address a judge in this way and it demonstrates The PDF is vital to our future and we will be given an opportunity to have our say....


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