An 89-year-old ex-politician, whose extraordinary life embraced many of the moral and ideological battles of the 20th Century before she was stricken by dementia, has triumphed in her landmark legal fight to return to her home of 60 years from the nursing home where she was being detained against her will.
Lifelong feminist and campaigner for women’s rights Manuela Sykes, whom the Court of Protection unusually allowed to be named in reports of the case, was described as ‘ever a fighter’ who had served as a Wren in the Fleet Air Arm before standing for Parliament and editing a trade union newspaper for 40 years. Always in the public eye, she had devoted much of her life to helping the needy, including dementia sufferers.
Because of her declining mental condition, however, she had been ‘deprived of her liberty’ at the behest of Westminster City Council under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and detained in a nursing home. The Council argued that that was necessary due to her history of self-neglect, unhygienic living conditions and lack of awareness of her own safety.
Ms Sykes had nevertheless consistently expressed the desire to return to her own home and a close friend who held a lasting power of attorney over her affairs applied to the Court for her wish to be granted. A long-standing advocate of euthanasia in cases of acute suffering, she had threatened suicide if forced to remain in the nursing home.
The universal view of professionals and members of Ms Sykes’ family was that her dementia had gravely affected her ability to understand, retain and weigh relevant information. However, in opening the way for her to return home on a trial basis, the Court found that she was still able to express clear wishes and to appreciate the value of individual liberty.
When in full control of her faculties, Ms Sykes had signed a ‘living will’, indicating her wish to remain in her own home for as long as feasible and, in general, prioritising quality of life over the prolongation of life. The Court took that document into account in ruling that it was in her best interests to attempt a one-month trial of home-based care.