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High Court clarifies internet access for vulnerable people

Guidance given in respect of persons who lack mental capacity to use the platforms

In Re A (Capacity: Social Media and Internet Use: Best Interests) [2019] EWCOP 2 Mr Justice Cobb has clarified for social workers and local authorities the criteria that must be met before restrictions on social media and internet use can be imposed on vulnerable individuals who lack mental capacity to use the platforms.

The court heard that A, a young adult with learning disabilities, had been placing himself at risk on a regular basis due to his inability to safely navigate the internet and social media.

The case was brought on behalf of an unnamed local authority which sought guidance from the court as to how a person's mental capacity to use the internet and social media should be assessed.

The judgment detailed that there was an "acknowledged public uncertainty of the law surrounding online abuse" and went on to say that the law as a whole "requires greater clarity, consolidation and/or rationalisation in order to be more effective".

Speaking of the judgment, Caroline Hurst from Simpson Millar, who was instructed by the Official Solicitor to represent A, said that the judgment will ensure that a 'balance is struck' between ensuring a person's autonomy is respected and promoted whilst allowing the professionals responsible for the care of vulnerable people to take steps to safeguard them.

Ms Hurst said:

"Given the very pervasive nature of the internet and its intrinsic link to all areas of our lives – from watching a TV programme on catch up, to booking flights and gaining employment – this issue has wider implications in terms of protecting and promoting a person's autonomy."

According to Simpson Millar, restrictions on internet or social media use could be a significant breach of a person's Article 8 rights if not provided for in the individual's care plan, properly authorised by the court and subject to regular review.

Ms Hurst added:

"Going forward, there should be consistency between local authorities with regards the criteria that must be met when determining whether an individual has the mental capacity to use the internet and social media safely."

For the judgment, click here.