Bold & Brave
Somebody once said that you should never meet your heroes. What a load of rubbish. As long as you have some tissues and some spare underpants, I really recommend meeting your heroes.
Yesterday, I spoke at a Best Interests Assessors training event in Derby. The other speaker was Justice Peter Jackson – the man who saved Steven’s life in 2011. He also changed my life too and opened up the doors for me to write and do public speaking.
I was terrified of him arriving whilst I was doing my talk. I felt sure he would arrive in the last five minutes of the talk, which is the segment when I am talking about him! Thankfully he didn’t and after my talk, I slipped out for five minutes for some quiet time. We bumped into each other on the stairs upon my return. I’m not going to write publicly about what we talked about in private, mainly because I want to keep it for myself but he was very genuinely very interested in how Steven was doing and was delighted when I told him about Steven’s 12 stone weight loss. Later we talked again during the lunch break and I plucked up the courage to ask him if he would accept a copy of my book. He said, “only on the condition that you sign it” and it was a very emotional moment.
There was an awkward moment when one of the delegates wanted to take a selfie of the two of us. My immediate reaction was “Oh No!” but he handled it brilliantly and said that if (heaven forbid) I need to appear in front of him again, it wouldn’t be wise for counsel to discover on Instagram a photo of us together. (I wish I’d thought of that).
Justice Jackson’s talk was about “Bold & Brave Decision Making”. I guess it was a call to arms to the professionals in the audience which was made up of best interests assessors, social workers and mental health professionals. It was a fascinating talk, full of humility and humour and I’ve been processing it ever since. He talked at length about two of the big decisions that have to be made in Deprivation of Liberty cases: the mental capacity assessment and the best interests decision. I’ve read a lot of CoP judgments and I think that quite often the case rests on the fact that the professionals have got stuck in one of the decisions. They often put the cart before the horse and make a best interests decision and then decide on capacity to suit their decision. Or, and Justice Jackson said this is one of the most infuriating things for a Judge, is that they don’t make a decision at all. There may be endless reports, assessments, balance sheets but the more paperwork submitted, the more likely it is to not find a decision has been made. Justice Jackson described himself as not being expert at all on many of the issues that come before him but he did claim to be an expert on making a decision. I thought that was excellent.
At the end of his talk, he invited discussion from the audience and at one point, put me on the spot and asked me directly what I thought. I didn’t want to sound too brown nosing but I said that I felt his decisions in his judgments occupy a space between capacity and best interests – a space of humanity and deep wisdom. He had talked about one of his famous cases from a couple of years ago. In this case, all the professionals, including the Official Solicitor felt it was in the man’s best interests to have his legs removed to prolong his life. The man was against the operation. Medical opinion believed that if the operation didn’t happen, the man would die very shortly. Justice Jackson went to visit the man in his home and talked to him at length about his life and his wishes. His final judgment went against all the expert opinion and he decided that the man shouldn’t have the operation and be able to live, whatever was left of his life, the way he wanted to. Justice Jackson reported yesterday that, two years on, the man is still alive, as curmudgeonly and belligerent as as ever. He was going to die the way he had lived his life. The way he wanted. That whole judgment seems to me to take place in a space that the decision makers in social care very rarely enter into.
It was an emotional day. It was a day that I will be trying to make sense of for a long time. It was a day to be bold and brave and humble and human.