Judges to Decide on Living Wills in Secret Courts

Daily Mail (London), August 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

Judges to Decide on Living Wills in Secret Courts


Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

NEW courts with the power to decide whether a hospital patient lives or dies will be allowed to sit in secret.

The decision by ministers means the first legal tribunal for more than 40 years with the right to take a life will hear cases behind closed doors if a judge thinks the proceedings should not be made public.

The rules apply to the Court of Protection, which will police the workings of 'living wills' and ' powers of attorney' introduced under Labour's controversial Mental Capacity Act.

Living wills allow a patient to order doctors to let them die if they become too ill to speak for or feed themselves. Powers of attorney mean they can give that decision to a friend or relative.

Where a dispute arises, the Court of Protection will decide, making it the first with life-anddeath powers since the death penalty was abolished for murder in 1965. Critics claim the Act amounts to back door euthanasia. They also warn it will leave the ill and incapacitated at risk from unscrupulous relatives or advisers.

Yesterday, the decision to allow the Court of Protection to sit in secret produced further protests.

Robert Whelan, from the thinktank Civitas, said: 'It will allow the courts to do anything and everything-and nobody will ever find out. It reminds me of the Abortion Act - it was supposed to have a very limited effect but when things turned out otherwise it was too late to do anything about it. We won't know what is going on in these courts.' The move is the latest in a series of ministerial decisions which will allow the judiciary to hear growingnumbers of cases in secret. Earlier-this summer, the Lord Chancellor-Lord Falconer, put forward plans to allow coroners' courts investigating suspicious deaths to keep the public and media out.

There has also been pressure to open family courts to the public.

Fathers' groups believe they are biased against men and there are also concerns over child custody and adoption rulings.

But a new regime will not allow the public in to hearings and will prevent the media from reporting the names of those involved. …

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