One of the things that sometimes concerns me is what in the past I’ve called “human rightsism“: the tendency to think all social problems should be cast and resolved in terms of human rights. It’s related I think to seeing human rights as applying to everything; and in practical legal terms, to seeing Convention rights as engaged in almost every situation – for instance, whenever the state does anything.
In contrast, it’s refreshing to read Lord Justice Munby’s approach to the application of the article 5 Convention right not to be arbitrarily detained, in Cheshire West and Chester Council v P  EWCA Civ 1257. P’s a thirty-nine year old man with significant physical and learning disabilities, and lacks the mental capacity to make decisions as to his care and residence. He lived with his mother until in 2009 her health meant she was no longer able to care for her son. He’s now being cared for by the local authority at a place called Z House.
The legal question is whether his placement amounts to a “deprivation of liberty” for the purposes of article 5. I won’t go into the details: I suggest you read the full facts, and Munby LJ’s reasoning as a whole. I think he’s right. The alternative (unless, unlike me, you think only the state can ever interfere with your rights) is to see most situations in which one person cares intensely for another as involving detention in legal terms.
What people like P need, it seems to me (and this is a point I made on Law in Action this week) is the most humane and effective social care system possible. That means well-funded social care with a highly-skilled, well-paid and committed workforce that’s well regulated and constantly improving. I suppose applying human rights law to what happens in social care might sometimes help – but I doubt it often does. It seems to me a poor second best to the kind of radical reform, resourcing and regulation that could really deliver what we all want.