A landmark ruling was handed down last week by the High Court which provided clarity on the criteria that must be met before social workers and local authorities can impose restrictions on vulnerable people using social media.
The one-day hearing which prompted the ruling took place in January 2019, where the court heard that a young adult with learning difficulties, known as A, had been frequently at risk on social media as a result of his inability to safely navigate the internet.
The case was brought to the high court on behalf of A’s local authority, who sought guidance on assessing a person’s capacity to safely use the internet. Public law experts advised that placing restrictions on the internet or social media may constitute a significant breach of a person’s Article 8 rights if not specified in the individual’s care plan, with proper authority from the court and subject to regular review.
Caroline Hurst of the law firm Simpson Millar, who represented A throughout the case, said that she would make sure that a “balance is struck” to ensure personal autonomy is safeguarded while ensuring that professionals or carers who are responsible for a vulnerable individual are still able to take steps to protect them.
Caroline 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.”
The judgement noted that there is “acknowledged public uncertainty of the law surrounding online abuse,” and said that the law “requires greater clarity, consolidation, and/or rationalisation in order to be more effective.”
“We welcome this judgment which provides long-awaited clarity on this increasingly prominent issue,” said Caroline. “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.”Get your copy of UNITE Magazine