The Supreme Court has handed down judgment in Worcestershire County Council v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 31, allowing Worcestershire’s appeal in this important case concerning section 117 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Section 117 provides that where a person who has been detained for mental health treatment in hospital is discharged, the local authority for the area in which they were ‘ordinarily resident’ before their detention is under a duty to provide them with mental health after-care services. However, after discharge, people often move from the area of one local authority to a second local authority (because, for instance, a close relative lives there). Many of them are then detained in hospital for a second time.
The question for the Supreme Court was, which of the two local authorities is then responsible for providing after-care services after that second period of detention? Is it the first authority, which was already providing the services prior to the second detention? Or is it the second authority, in whose area the person was living at that time?
Overturning the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court (Lord Hamblen and Lord Leggatt, with whom Lord Reed, Lord Burrows and Lord Richards agreed) held that it was the second authority: “on the best interpretation of section 117… the duty under section 117(2) automatically ceases if and when the person concerned is detained” (§54) under the relevant provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Applying this interpretation to the facts, Worcestershire’s duty to provide the person concerned with after-care services ended at the moment her second detention began. In other words, the second period of detention ‘reset’ the section 117 duty.
The Court also dismissed the Secretary of State’s cross-appeal. The Secretary of State submitted, relying on R (Cornwall County Council) v Secretary of State for Health  UKSC 46, that any placement by a local authority under its statutory care duties should be disregarded when determining where a person is ordinarily resident. The Supreme Court disagreed. Cornwall did not change the usual meaning of the words “is ordinarily resident” in section 117 which had been established by the House of Lords in R v Barnet London Borough Council, Ex p Shah  2 AC 309.
Andrew Sharland KC and Oliver Jackson were instructed for the Supreme Court proceedings, with Lee Parkhill from Cornerstone Barristers. They were instructed by Anna Ost from Worcestershire County Council legal services.