I spent a couple of hours at the Royal Courts of Justice, watching some of the most experienced legal minds in the country deliberating the legal niceties of exactly when a decision is actually made. As I sat their doing my best to concentrate and try and figure out exactly how to sum up what was happening a truly horrible thought passed through my mind. We had three senior Judges poring over the decision. Judges who usually hear appeals from evil murderers looking to get out of jail on a technicality, or innocent stooges trying to overtune fit ups (depending on who you believe). Today we had a rather different sort of case. We had the sight of severely physically disabled and wheelchair bound Barnet resident Maria Nash simply asking for the honourable folk on the bench to ensure that her rights as a human being are respected and not tossed aside on a technicality.
What struck me is that whilst the Judges can cast the shackles off a murderer or a rapist should they be so minded, they cannot free Maria from the prison which her own body has become. Being a volunteer with a charity that takes adults with physical impairment on holiday, I have seen first hand the indignity of how people in wheelchairs have to be hoisted, manhandled and shunted around, even for the most simple tasks such as going to bed or the toilet. Whilst the judges can do nothing to make this situation any easier, they are contemplating a choice, which could conceivably make it far worse. Maria believes that as the decisions taken by the council with regards to One Barnet are likely to have a major impact on her life, she should be consulted. Barnet Council last year outsourced the care of adults to a company wholly owned by Barnet Council called Your Choice Barnet. The service users were told their would be no impact. The council lied because the "business model" they used and the "business plan" they were working to was fatally flawed. The company nearly went bust and the Council had to bale it out. As a result of this enormous financial failure, all manner of experienced staff are being threatened with the sack to balance the books (strangely the highly paid execs at the top seem exempt).
The whole thing seems to come down to when Maria could actually reasonably have been expected to launch her case. Given that it is not clear to some of the finest legal minds in the land and is clearly a matter of some debate, how on earth could an ordinary citizen, totally unused to the law be expected to figure it out, especially when the Council broadcast no information to anyone about their plans.
To my mind, the time of the decision could not be more clear. That is when everyone is made aware of what the effects of the change will be. This could not possibly be back in April 2011, when the council have claimed. How on earth could anyone have expected Maria to know the implications on her life at that time, when no one even knew what was in the business case?
Let me put it another way. Just suppose the Police read my blog and I stated that in two and a half years time I was thinking of robbing an old lady and make off with all of her money, but I was in the process of deciding whether it was feasable or not. Suppose I said that I wanted to consult with my gang and ensure we worked out the way to execute the robbery as effectively as possible before we went around there. What would you expect the police to do? Would you expect the Police to zoom around and arrest me on the spot? I would simply say "I had not made any plans and it was all conjecture". You would most likely expect the police to keep an eye on me, work out who the rest of the gang were and how serious our plans were. You would expect them to arrest us at the stage when it was clear that we had a clear plan and what that plan was. That way, they would have the best chance of seeing justice done. Now most of you will be rather pleased to know that I don't have any such plans.
What we cannot be so sure of is how the councils plans will affect Maria. If the outsourcing causes changes to her care plan and quality of living, she will have to dip into her savings to cover the gap. This is no different to the council robbing her, in my opinion. It is violating her right to have a life with dignity and respect. What happens when her money runs out? Then she will be at the mercy of the whoever the private contractors are.
Why are we doing all of this? So that the council doesn't have to increase all of the rest of our council tax bills by the cost of one cup of coffee a week at Starbucks.
What can I tell you about the proceedings? Well it seemed to me that the Higher court judges, seemed to be rather dismissive of Mr Eric Pickles and the quality of his advice on the issue. The Council for Barnet, sitting immediately in front of me turned around on a couple of occaasions and gave a rather smug grin to her colleague as the Judges sought various clarifications. I wondered what she was like at Poker? Maybe I'll ask her for a game. I have played cards against a few barristers before now. They are all completely useless. Whilst good poker players like to mislead and hide any serious shows of emotion, barristers love to show us how clever they are and how well they've done. I suspect that is why so many gamblers end up in clink, the mindset is one that looks rather shifty to m'learned friends.
Five years ago, I was just about to take my 83 year old disabled mother to Lourdes, with HCPT, a charity which provides pilgrimages for people with various needs. I was still writing blogs for the Hendon Times and I had only just become aware of One Barnet. I was labouring under the illusion that the Council was run by people who were basically Ok and got the odd thing wrong. I had been inspired to write the blog partially by the horrific experiences my mother had when Barnet Council outsourced Meals on Wheels to Sodexho. What I didn't know at the time was that withing three weeks, she'd be dead. The ravages of age, illness and the realisation that her independent living was an illusion, which the council had destroyed when her meals stopped arriving was too much. When I saw Maria before the judges, I thanked the good Lord that not everyone has been driven into the dust by the awful bureacratic monster which Barnet Council has become.
Although I am not particularly religious (my faith is very much based on doing, not praying), tonight I will pray for Maria and for common sense to prevail. Sadly it seems to me that there is nothing else I can do which will have the slightest effect on this madness, despite five years of trying. I hope I am wrong, but I get the feeling that the Judges are far too wrapped up in the minutae of legal detail to actually care that justice is done for Maria. The one consolation I will have is that it is clear that Maria has won the moral argument hands down, whatever the outcome when the verdict is delivered.