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High Court judge refuses to block trip by vulnerable adult abroad but urges her not to go

A young adult with a lifelong serious mental illness should not be prevented from visiting a man in Brazil suspected of grooming her, but should very carefully consider the wisdom of doing so, a Deputy High Court judge has said.

The London Borough of Islington had made an applicaton to the High Court in relation to EF, who between 2018-20 had had three in-patient admissions suffering acute psychosis.

In London Borough of Islington v EF [2022] EWHC 803 (Fam) the court heard she was diagnosed with a schizo-affective disorder, a lifelong serious mental illness presenting with psychotic and affective symptoms. When unwell she has self-harmed and expressed suicidal ideation.

EF is already aged 18 but Islington applied for orders under the inherent jurisdiction to prohibit her from travelling to Brazil for an initial period of six months and for HM Passport Office to hold her passport.

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These orders were sought to prevent EF from seeing GH, even though the council accepted EF has capacity for the purposes of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

When EF was aged 14 in 2017 she met GH in a chat room, who was then aged 25. They began an online relationship and in October 2018 GH sent EF an engagement ring and told her he would come to England when she was 16 and that they would get married.

In September 2019 GH came to England and was arrested in England on suspicion of possession of child pornography, stated by the police as images of "very young children."

He returned to Brazil in 2020 and “it is understood that if he returned to England the police would want to pursue their investigation and his liberty may be at risk and so he is not planning to do so”, the judge said.

GF had admitted to EF that he is addicted to pornography and has downloaded child pornography including images of very young children.

Judge Verdan said he accepted EF took her mental health very seriously, but her illness was not always in her control and he agreed with medical evidence that her understanding of the risks posed from GH was superficial and minimal.

He noted: “‘Paradoxically she accepted that if a young female friend of hers told her of a plan to go to Brazil to live with someone like GH, she too would be concerned, saying ‘of course it does not sound like a sensible plan’. However she could not see the very same risks for herself.”

Medical evidence also suggested that if EF travelled to Brazil there was a significant risk that her mental state would worsen, and she would be at risk of exploitation and suicide.

Despite these factors, Judge Verdan said that since EF had capacity the Mental Capacity Act was not engaged and the only power of the court had was the inherent jurisdiction, “but the exercise of this is carefully circumscribed.... and the power must be used sparingly”.

The judge said: “I should assume EF is able to make her own decisions and should not be treated as being unable to merely because she is making unwise ones.”

He added: “The net effect of these prohibitions is also to stop EF from seeing GH. [The local authority] are seeking for decisions of the utmost significance to be imposed upon EF. On that basis alone I should not make them.”

The judge said he also had EF’s Article 8 right to consider and was conscious that the only reason why court intervention was possible in this case was that GH lives on another continent.

“If EF was associating with a man who lived in London who [the local authority] thought was unsuitable they would not be able to protect her from that save by depriving her of her liberty which step they obviously would not take,” he added.

He went on though to make a personal plea to EF saying: “The court's view is that EF would be making a very unwise decision to move to Brazil”, and urged her to listen carefully to the advice given and think more deeply about the issues in this case.

Mark Smulian

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