Local authority fails to silence father from speaking about their failings in care of his autistic daughter - Oliver Lewis acts

Bethany is a 17-year-old girl who has autism. She has been detained in St Andrews Hospital in Northamptonshire for nearly 2 years. Much of that time she has been placed in a seclusion room that contains a bed and a chair, but nothing else. She is fed through a hatch in the locked door measuring 8 inches by 8 inches. When her parents visit Bethany they have to speak to her through the hatch. St Andrews is a private company and it is understood that it charges £13,000 per week to look after Bethany.


On 2 October 2018, BBC’s File on 4 broadcast a programme about Bethany, in the context of 250 other children inappropriately detained in Assessment and Treatment Units in the UK. You can hear the programme by clicking here. There was an outpouring of anger on social media that the children are treated in this appalling way. Bethany’s father Jeremy joined Twitter the same day to join in the public discussion and was critical about how NHS England, St Andrews and the local authority had treated Bethany.


A few days later, the local authority - Walsall - applied to the High Court for an injunction to gag Jeremy from talking about Bethany’s plight. Victoria Butler Cole of 39 Essex Chambers and Oliver Lewis of Doughty Street Chambers were instructed on a pro bono basis to represent Jeremy. They worked with the legal team at Mencap who helped Jeremy draft a witness statement.


The case was heard before Mr Justice Keehan on 11 October 2018. After hearing legal arguments and considering its position, the local authority withdrew its application. The judge awarded a pro bono costs order against the local authority, which means the fees Victoria and Oliver would have charged will be paid by the local authority to the Access to Justice Foundation. The hearing was held in private but the judge gave permission to report on the fact that an application had been made and then withdrawn at the hearing. 


The Times published an article about the case on 13 October 2018 - you can read that by clicking here. Jeremy tweets at @JeremyH09406697. Information about pro bono costs orders can be found at @ProBonoCosts. Victoria tweets at @TorButlerCole and Oliver at @DrOliverLewis.