Northern Ireland

Belfast Trust right to restrict alleged abuser, says judge

A health trust has legal power to impose restrictions on the movements of an alleged child abuser with a learning disability, a High Court judge has ruled.

Judicial review proceedings were brought by the man, who cannot be identified.

He took the action over restrictions to his movements imposed by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

He wanted to be able to leave his home address unaccompanied at any time.

The court heard that the man, who currently lives in supported accommodation in the County Down area with two other men, has a learning disability and history of serious aggression.

He has received treatment for an unadjudicated (not tried or convicted in court) sexual offence against a child, with evidence showing he becomes anxious during unexpected contact with children.

As part of guardianship arrangements imposed under the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986 a supervision plan allowed him to walk to his local shop without supervision twice a week.

He can also go to the local shopping centre for half an hour and leave his day centre once a week if he needs to make any purchases.

Limitations

Sporting events in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland have been attended as well.

The legal authority of the trust to impose conditions was contested, amid claims that the restrictions were unlawful.

Mr Justice Treacy held that mental health legislation authorised limitations on the man's unsupervised trips from his home.

The judge pointed out that the man generally accepted the conditions set by his support team.

"It appears to me on the evidence that this applicant is comparable to an older teenager who, whilst he may complain about some restrictions imposed by his parents, nevertheless generally complies and does not find the limitations sufficiently burdensome to wish to change his living arrangements entirely," Mr Justice Treacy said.

"The fact that he may wish that some of the restriction on his freedom could be removed does not convert his position from one of compliance into one where he suffers deprivation of liberty."

The judge acknowledged more onerous conditions may be more difficult to justify.

However, he held: "I consider that this trust has acted within the powers available to it under the relevant legislation."