The Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court: Archie Battersbee and Beyond
The name of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee is one that has been regularly found in the headlines of news outlets in recent weeks, following the four-month legal battle which ultimately led to the withdrawal of his life-sustaining treatment earlier this month. The circumstances of this case are tragic and involved extremely difficult decisions on behalf of the treating clinicians, Archie’s family, and the Judiciary who ultimately deemed that it would not be in Archie’s best interests for his treatment to continue. It is important to understand the legal framework which provides the scaffolding for such complex decisions.
The decisions handed down in Archie’s case were made under the Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court. The Inherent Jurisdiction is a legal mechanism which has been described by some as a ‘safety net’, enabling the court to implement protective measures in situations where there is no power to intervene specifically set out in statute.
Prior to the enactment of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which established the Court of Protection as a specialist branch of the Court with powers to make specific decisions on behalf of those who lack capacity; cases like Archie’s were dealt with under the Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court. Contested decisions in relation to the medical treatment of children continue to be regulated under the Inherent Jurisdiction, as the Court of Protection’s powers do not apply to those who are under 18 for Welfare based matters.
The remit of Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction is far reaching, and the Court has the power to deal with issues of capacity, as well as individuals’ vulnerability, where capacity is a non-issue. Case law has established that the Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court may still be applied where an adult has been deemed to have capacity, but that person is significantly vulnerable and believed to be either:
- Under constraint;
- Subject to coercion or undue influence;
- For some other reason deprived of the capacity to make the relevant decision, or disabled from making a free choice, or in capacitated or disabled from giving or expressing a real and genuine consent.
An example of when it may be appropriate to invoke the High Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction in relation to an adult may be where steps need to be taken in relation to marriage, contact or residence where someone has been party to significant coercion and control in a relationship, or where steps need to be taken to protect someone from financial abuse, even where they are deemed to have capacity to make decisions in relation to their property and affairs.
The Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court is therefore not only a concept that is relevant to headline-grabbing cases such are Archie’s, but one which legal representatives should consider when working with vulnerable individuals in a wide range of circumstances where the safeguards of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 cannot be applied.* Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*