In 2005, I asked the Court of Protection to appoint a receiver (now called deputy), to manage my parents' financial affairs. Both had been diagnosed with Alzheimers and lived with my family in Suffolk. Because of my caring responsibilities – we also have 4 sons, one of whom is severely disabled – I had felt unable to commit to the role myself.

A local solicitor was duly appointed, and we were assured that, as a member of the court's Professional Receivers Panel, she would provide a 'high quality' service', and her fees would be 'tightly controlled.'

The solicitor was aware there would be some urgent financial issues to resolve, since my parents had unwittingly caused us to go into debt, by reneging on a promise to contribute towards the annexe we had built for them.

In law, a fiduciary owes the highest duty of care to a client), yet in my parents' case, the deputy was rarely available. For one year she ignored all court instructions (to market my parents' property and prepare a Declaration of Trust), and failed to carry out even basic financial duties for them. Her inaction caused my parents (and ourselves) to suffer unnecessary stress and hardship, as well as substantial losses, to the point where I asked the court to replace her. A new deputy was appointed, with whom we had no further problems.

I later discovered that the first deputy had charged my parents nearly £19,000 (plus other costs) for her 'services'. I decided to challenge her bill in court, and the case history below gives a step-by-step account of the procedures involved.

Following a succession of hearings in the Senior Courts Costs Office and Court of Appeal, the Bill of Costs was eventually reduced by £6,000. In addition to general overcharging, the deputy had charged for non-fee earning secretaries, while calling them Legal Executives. (By any definition, this amounts to fraud).

As a Litigant in Person I had incurred substantial costs in exposing her financially abusive bill. However, the Costs Judge claimed he could not award costs to the estate in a Court of Protection case.

During proceedings, I had also discovered that the deputy had severely neglected my parents' affairs. Evidence taken from her files showed that, in addition to failures I had known about, she had also failed to declare 4 accounts belonging to my parents, at least one of which was 'emptied' during her receivership.

Having finally secured evidence of overcharging and neglect, I applied to the Court of Protection for 'forfeiture' of my parents' security bonds (now called surety bonds). The bonds are a compulsory insurance, which all COP clients pay for annually, to cover against any financial losses caused by their deputy. Premiums cost, on average, around £250 a year, but can exceed £1,000 for larger estates.

I claimed for losses incurred through challenging the deputy's bill, and for further losses resulting from her negligence.

The case history gives a chronological account of all court applications and hearings, along with additional steps taken by me to address issues arising from these.

What happened at this point will no doubt come as a surprise to all representatives of vulnerable clients, and to the legal profession as a whole.

As the first person to have successfully challenged a professional deputy's bill, and - as far as I am aware - the only lay person to have claimed against a professional deputy's bonds, I feel my unique experience will provide invaluable insight to both Litigants in Person and to legal professionals dealing with Court of Protection matters.

It is of serious concern that the bonds of only 4 professional deputies have been forfeited by the court in 27 years, and that - despite the court's avowed commitment to transparency - none of the judgments in these cases has been published. In my parents' case, the judgment was also 'kept secret' for nearly 2 years, even though it sets a precedent and effectively amends the terms of all surety bonds.

After repeated requests from myself, the Court has finally published the judgment, and for the first time in its history has publicised a case involving a claim against a professional deputy's bonds. But, it has yet to notify its clients and their representatives of the impact of this case on their insurance.

In the attached PDF, I have summarised some key aspects of the Judgment, which should alert the reader to some of its more 'bizarre' aspects. Following this, I have tried to report the case history itself in a purely factual and restrained manner, so as not to detract from some of the serious issues involved.

I have written this account (which is also free on Kindle) on behalf of all vulnerable clients under the court's jurisdiction, regardless of the fact that my parents and my own family have been denied justice. No organisation - including the PGO, the OPG, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Adjudicator, Solicitors for the Elderly, the Judicial Ombudsman, Parliamentary Ombudsman and Court of Protection itself – has had access to the deputy's files, and as the only person who has been able to view them, I feel that I alone can speak with authority on how my parents' affairs were managed.

I leave the reader to determine whether the Court of Protection's reputation for secrecy and malpractice is justified, and to question why the Court has been so reluctant to publish this key judgment.

Antoinette Tricker, November 2015

 

After writing this account of my experience, I carried out considerable research into surety bonds. I put together all-known facts about this ill-documented insurance and used my parents’ case to illustrate what happens during a claim.

For an in-depth summary, please see: courtofprotectionsuretybonds.info