UK Court of Protection approves of limited internet access plan for man under Mental Capacity Act

The UK Court of Protection has approved a plan put forward by a local authority limiting the internet usage of a young man in its care, after the authority sought a declaration under the Mental Capacity Act 2015 as to the capacity level required for someone with a learning disability and functioning impairment to use the internet unrestricted or unsupervised.

The man in question is a 21 year old who lives in independent supported living where he receives extensive, personal social care. Both his parents and his social worker became concerned about his safety online, when it was discovered that he had been sharing intimate photographs and videos of himself on social media.

The man was stated to have a learning disability, with an impairment in adaptive social functioning, and executive functioning, with a low level of literacy and poor written communication skills. It was found by a psychiatrist that such factors seriously impair his ability to surf the internet safely, and as such he has developed an interest in accessing pornography sites, some featuring illegal sexual activity.

He also left himself open to being exploited by sexual predators and offenders online, and had revealed to a support worker that he had been raped by an identified man he had met over the internet. Such instances raised questions as to whether this conduct revealed a deficit in the man’s functioning and capacity.

The court acknowledged the importance of not inappropriately removing or reducing the personal autonomy and independence of the man when attempting to determine whether a person lack capacity to access and use the internet.

Considering the care that has to be taken in such instances, the judge applied a test to help establish whether a person has capacity to use the internet, particularly with regards to social media. In this test, the court must be satisfied that a person using the internet understands that:

  1. Information and images shared on the internet could be shared more widely without knowledge or consent but that it is possible to limit the sharing of personal information or images by using privacy and location settings;
  2. When sharing material that is rude or offensive, other people might be upset or offended;
  3. Some people you meet or communicate with online may disguise, or lie about, themselves;
  4. Some people they meet or communicate with on the internet may pose a risk to them and they may lie, or exploit or take advantage of them sexually, financially, emotionally and/or physically and cause them harm; and
  5. If they look at or share extremely rude or offensive content online, it may amount to a criminal offence.

The court concluded that the man in question only had a limited understanding of the information and images that he shared online, of privacy settings, and the risks that others pose to him online. It was therefore declared that he lacked the capacity to use the internet and social media, with the court approving the local authority’s plan to supervise and limit his internet use.

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