In 1980 the claimant suffered brain damage following a serious road traffic accident. In September 1987 the claimant accepted a settlement of £70,000. In 1992 following a consultation with a consultant in neuropsychiatric rehabilitation, the claimant became aware that there was a possibility that he ought to have been categorised as a ‘patient’ under s94(2) of the Mental Health Act 1983. The claimant sued the first defendant, his former solicitors, for negligence and/or breach of contract in respect of not having sought the court’s approval for the settlement, as is required by CPR r 21.10 for a patient.
Dismissing the case, it was held that although the opinions of skilled and experienced medical practitioners were a very important element in the evidence to be considered by the court, it was for the court to decide whether or not a person had capacity, not the medical profession.
The presumption of capacity applied to a case of the present nature (ie that the claimant was capable of managing his own affairs until the contrary was proved). To have capacity, the person concerned at the relevant time had to understand in broad terms what he was doing and the likely effects of his action. Legal capacity depended on understanding, rather than wisdom; the quality of the decision was irrelevant as long as the person understood what he was deciding.
The nature and extent of the property and affairs that a given individual had at his disposal to administer, was relevant to whether he had capacity for s94 purposes. The ‘environmental’ information to be ascertained included an examination of the value of the income and capital, the financial needs and responsibilities and the extent of the specialised knowledge and time that it might take to manage such affairs and the extent to which the person in question would be likely to seek, understand and act on appropriate advice where needed, and the complexity of his affairs. The personal information which had to be taken into consideration included the condition in which that person lived, his or her family background, family and social responsibilities and the degree of back-up and support the person received or could expect to receive from others.
In this case it was held that the claimant had been fully capable of managing and administering his property and affairs and had at no time been a patient within the meaning of the 1983 Act.