A prisoner, hoping for parole, is told that release is dependent on a place on a drugs rehabilitation scheme. The local authority which runs such schemes refuses to assess the prisoner's suitability until he is granted parole. Catch 22?
Cases such as this indicate what the legal future may hold for community care. As healthcare is redefined and cash-strapped social services departments take on the burden of looking after the vulnerable, the time may be ripe for judicial review.
Research shows that the growth in JR is concentrated in specific areas, but an important piece of public law legislation such as the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 is bound to throw up problems and subsequent legal challenges. It may lead to a rash of actions like those plaguing homelessness and immigration. But the Public Law Project (PLP), a national charity promoting improved access to public law for the disadvantaged, will be ready.
The PLP, in conjunction with lawyers and other agencies, will launch a briefing next month on challenging community care decisions which identifies areas where people may encounter legal problems. An advice line is to be set up for voluntary bodies with legal queries.
As part of its work in the field, the PLP is soon to embark on a research project into judicial review of community care decisions which aims to co-ordinate the various cases being brought against local authorities.
Co-ordinator Jane Winter stresses that the PLP has not set out to increase the number of cases coming to court.
“We are not judicial review merchants, we are simply trying to improve the quality of public decision-making,” she says.
“The idea is that if anyone is bringing a test-case they will let us know so we can put them in touch with people bringing similar cases.”
“We hope to achieve a system where we become a clearing-house for community care cases,” she says.
The PLP has chosen to focus on community care because the legislation has such a fundamental effect on people's lives.