What is the Office of Care and Protection?
The Office of Care and Protection (OCP) is an office within the Family Division of the High Court.
What we do
We have a general function to:
- Process the appointment of Controllers on behalf of the Court
- Supervise those individuals who have been appointed to manage the financial and property affairs of adults who lack the capacity to do so for themselves.
- Register Enduring Powers of Attorney.
- Investigate circumstances made known to us where the property or finances belonging to an incapable adult appear to be at risk.
What is the Master (Care and Protection)?
The Master (Care and Protection) is the judicial officer of the Court who is authorised to exercise any discretion, power or other function of the Court. The Master may also, in particular cases, refer a question to a judge for a decision.
What is the role of the Master (Care and Protection)?
The Master can authorise someone to do anything which appears necessary or expedient with respect to the property and affairs of a Patient. For example, they can authorise:
- The transfer and investment of money
- The release of monies to meet bills
- The sale or purchase of property; or alteration of title
- The making of gifts
- The making of a Will and
- The carrying on of a business
A patient is someone who, through mental disorder, is deemed incapable of managing their financial affairs. Such a declaration can be made by the court under the provisions of Part Vlll of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (the 1986 Order).
The 1986 Order provides the authority for the court to appoint a Controller to manage a Patients financial affairs.
Where the Court has received medical evidence confirming the Patient’s incapacity and is satisfied that there is a need to appoint a Controller, it will make an order to appoint a person as a Controller and give them the legal authority to manage financial affairs on behalf of the Patient in accordance with the court’s instructions. The Controller can be a relative, a friend, a professional advisor or a solicitor. The court may make further orders or directions from time to time to vary the Controller’s authority.
Every Controller is required to take out a security bond to safeguard assets and shall annually, or at such other intervals as the court may direct, submit accounts operated on behalf of the Patient to the OCP for inspection.
In some cases the court may decide to make a ‘short procedure order’, rather than appointing a controller. It usually occurs where the value of someone’s assets or income is relatively low. It can also occur when there is no property to be sold and the Patient does not have a level of income that the court considers needs managed by a Controller. A short procedure order may authorise someone to:
- use the Patients pensions and income on their behalf
- operate bank accounts on behalf of the Patient
- pay care home fees and any other debts and expenses
- make sure any documents and valuables are safely looked after.
What happens if there is no-one suitable or willing to act as Controller?
If no relative or friend is willing to act or if there is a disagreement between them as to whom should act, the Master may appoint an officer of the Court or the Official Solicitor as the Controller.
The practice and procedure of the OCP is defined in the Patients Affairs Rules which are set out in Order 109 and Appendix D of the Rules of the Court of Judicature [SR1986 No. 1841].
What powers will the Controller have?
A Controller can do all the things in relation to the property and affairs of the Patient as the court orders, directs or authorises them to do. If the court is later satisfied that the patient has become capable of managing their property and affairs the Controller will be discharged by the court.
What is the role of the Official Solicitor?
Article 109  of the Court of Judicature Rules provides authority for the Master (Care and Protection) to invite the Official Solicitor to act as a Controller for a Patient when there is no one else available or willing to assume this role.
What other protections for the Patient’s property and finances are available within the Provisions of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986?
The court may arrange a visit by a ‘Lord Chief Justice General Visitor’ to investigate any particular matter relating to the capacity of the patient to manage their property or affairs and then report to the court.
In addition Health and Social Care Trusts have some powers in relation to the property of a person in accommodation for which they are responsible. Under Article 116(1) of the Order, these powers apply to a person incapable by reason of mental disorder of managing and administering their property and affairs who resides in accommodation for which the Regional Board is responsible. The power does not apply where a controller has already been appointed.