In England and Wales, good quality and up to date information on legal matters is usually safely locked away behind paywalls where subjects of the law can't get at it. There is a government run database of statute law, legislation.gov.uk, but until very recently the copy of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was out of date and did not reflect the important amendments contained within the Mental Health Act 2007.
An understanding of the law would be incomplete without case law. The Bailii website has a special page dedicated to Court of Protection case law, but the vast majority of judgments do not end up here. The Mental Health Law Online website has the most complete selection of mental capacity and mental health case law that I am aware of on the web - free or otherwise. For useful summaries and discussion of Court of Protection case law, the barristers chambers 39 Essex Street publish a widely read and extremely useful newsletter. You can download back issues here. Bailii have also pulled together all the work the Law Commission did to develop the Mental Capacity Act; you can find these under 'M' on the website.
If you are new to the Mental Capacity Act or the deprivation of liberty safeguards, the best place to start is probably the code of practice.You can find a copy of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 Code of Practice and the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards Code of Practice online as well.
There are also lots of great legal blogs, which are helpful for keeping up to date. I particularly recommend the UK Human Rights Blog, and if you're interested in family law then also Pinktape.
Finding a solicitor
Not infrequently I get requests from blog readers who need legal help. I am not a solicitor and cannot give legal advice, but I generally direct people towards the Law Society's find a solicitor webpage. The Mental Health Lawyers Association have also begun listing solicitors who do Court of Protection work here. It can be very, very hard to find a solicitor with the requisite knowledge to take on specialist Court of Protection work - particularly if it includes deprivation of liberty issues - and so don't be put off if it takes you many phone calls to find someone (and by many, I have known people to make 50+). Good luck!
There are a wealth of handy guides to the Mental Capacity Act 2005. My personal favourites are the Blackstones guides to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (by Peter Bartlett) and the Mental Health Act 2007 (by Paul Bowen). Peter Bartlett and Ralph Sandland have also written an overview guide to mental health and mental capacity law, which contains less of the technical detail of the other guides but a really careful and insightful analysis of policy, cultural and socio-legal issues. Richard Jones and Lady Justice Brenda Hale have also both written widely read and recommended guides to the Mental Capacity Act and Mental Health Acts. On community care law, I recommend the large comprehensive guides by Luke Clements and Pauline Thompson and Michael Mandelstam, or this handy and up to date Quick Guide to Community Care Law if you want to skip detailed discussion of cases and find out what the law says! If you are completely new to community care law, I particularly recommend the Quick Guide.
Keeping up to date
I (try to) keep up to date with developments in law and social care through a variety of means. I find the website Community Care really helpful for staying up to date with social care news, and Local Government Lawyer for the legal side of social care (and other) developments. The Guardian's Society and Law pages are good for general legal and social care coverage, but don't always cover Court of Protection stuff. I find that the Telegraph, Independent and Daily Mail carry quite a lot of coverage of Court of Protection issues, although the quality and accuracy does vary! And then, of course, I have met many fantastic people and found some great resources through twitter and the blogs listed on my blogroll.
History and philosophy of mental health
- Andrew Roberts has created a fantastic (and free) mental health timeline on his website, which I find myself absorbed in for hours at a time. It's a great place to start for understanding the evolution of mental health laws and practices, and also for understanding the beginnings of regulation and inspection in social care in general. It also contains a history of the survivor movement, dating from the 18th century.
- I also really enjoyed Andrew Scull's critical history of madness in Britain dating 1700-1900, The Loneliest of Afflictions. And Peter Bartlett has also written a great book on The Poor Law of Lunacy - which explores the relationship between the treatment of the insane in the 19th Century and the Poor Law. Roy Porter's 'brief history' of madness is also well worth a read.
- The fantastic Essex Autonomy Project explores the tensions between autonomy and paternalism that animate many debates about mental capacity and mental health law. They run various events and conferences, and their website has many well written and accessible resources for thinking about the philosophical issues. Particular highlights include their history of consent, a paper on the relationship between autonomy and value and also - testimony to their work on 'real world' philosophical problems - a report on a policy roundtable they held at the Ministry of Justice on best interests decision making.
- Those interested in philosophy might also enjoy the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is a free online resource with articles written by some quite eminent philosophers. It does have quite a bent towards more 'anglo' traditions in philosophy, but if you bear in mind that it's not a comprehensive encyclopedia it does contain some great entries on personal autonomy, political autonomy, paternalism and other kinds of liberty (including Republican liberty, which I'm quite interested in). Good entries also on consent, advance decisions and substitute decisions and the limits of law.
- If you don't fancy shelling out on expensive books, one of the best kept secrets in academia is The British Library Thesis Finder, where with a bit of fiddling about you can download - for free - many fantastic PhD theses in pdf form. There are plenty of interesting ones here on disability, care, law and the history of madness - including some by authors I have listed above. You won't find mine though, as it's still a work in progress!
Social care and workforce
There are loads of great social care resources out there. Foremost among these has to the the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE); they've got a brilliant guide on accessing the Court of Protection (guide 42), the DoLS and a whole collection of other materials on the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
If you're interested in issues for adults with learning disabilities specifically, the Norah Fry Research Centre at Bristol University do very high quality research. A lot of their research is for the public sector, and so their website has freely available research reports. The Joseph Rowntree Trust do some excellent work on issues around disability, ageing and care. If you're interested in workforce issues then Skills for Care are *the* authoritative source of statistical information, although be warned that data on the social care workforce is patchy at best. At Kings College London, the Social Care Workforce Research Unit have done lots of interesting studies on the MCA and the social care workforce; they have a great free periodical. There are a wealth of other fantastic research institutes on social care and the MCA in the UK, but I've only listed the ones that I know have free information on their websites (please feel free to contact me if you know of any more).
There are also some great blogs by health and social care professionals. My favourite was Fighting Monsters, which is sadly no longer active but is still open to be read. The Not So Big Society Blog has lots of coverage of political issues in social care. I also read The Masked AMHP and Lake Cocytus is written by a psychiatrists, and The Week in Mentalists also has a great list of other blogs on mental health in their 2011 blog awards (ahem). Stuart Sorensen is a trainer in mental health (he also has a care training blog), and there are lots of training goodies on his blogs.
Brilliant blog posts
I read a lot of interesting and rewarding blog posts, but the nature of the medium can be pretty ephemeral and their relevance can expire quite quickly. However, sometimes I read a post that just stays with me. This list is rather embryonic, but I'll try to add to it as time goes on:
- Autism rights activist Amanda Baggs (the creator of this rather famous video) wrote a brilliant piece about being institutionalised. For those who think the paternalistic exercise of control comes 'free' so long as control is not exercised in an abusive way, this might make you think again. If you found this interesting, you might want to read up further on the Neurodiversity movement.
- Another post that keeps me awake at night is by Libertarian blogger Anna Raccoon. Anna and I come from wildly divergent political approaches, but I find a considerable amount of common ground in her writings on mental capacity law. In Where's Wally she writes about a previous experience as a Court of Protection visitor - the post raises all kinds of questions about what we consider to be 'harms' that people need protecting from, and whether sanitised and safe but drab existences might not be serious harms in and of themselves.
- In my research I am interested in how far the concept of 'mental capacity' in care settings interferes with people's sense of being 'owners' of their own bodies. I increasingly think a fundamental characteristic of Liberty is bodily integrity. Blogging about his own experiences of being in prison, Prisoner Ben describes the experience of the loss of sovereignty over one's own body in a very different setting.
- Mark Neary - the father of Steven Neary in the case Neary v Hillingdon  has written a blog about his experience of trying to get Steven home. Ultimately I think the plan is for this to be published as a book. I found this chapter - entitled Magna Carta - particularly moving.