Kat Jayne 2017

As a major legal topic under public scrutiny right now, the US conservatorship system has been explored in a new documentary, Framing Britney Spears. A harrowing and upsetting watch, the film highlights how the conservatorship of Britney, managed by her father Jamie, has been exploited for financial gain, and has controlled every aspect of her life against her will for the last twelve years. Under English law, such misuse of a court-appointed power is not possible, thankfully, due to strict legal confines.

Do conservatorships exist in the UK?

A conservatorship in the USA is when a guardian or a protector is appointed by a judge to manage the financial affairs or daily life of another due to physical or mental limitations or old age. The UK equivalent is a deputyship, which is applied for at the Court of Protection on behalf of someone who ‘lacks mental capacity.’ This may include someone with an illness, learning difficulties or who has experienced a severe brain injury.

What do Deputies do?

There are two types of deputy; a property and financial affairs deputy and a personal welfare deputy. Personal welfare includes making decisions about someone’s medical treatment and care. A personal deputyship can have two or more deputies, and a financial affairs deputy usually has to have the skills to manage financial matters. If Britney Spears was under a conservatorship in the UK, it is more likely that a financial professional, experienced in dealing with wealth at the scale of hers, would have been appointed to manage her assets instead of her inexperienced father.

Deputies must comply with the deputyship order appointing them and the five statutory principles in s1 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005:

  • Every adult must be assumed to have capacity unless proved otherwise.
  • An adult must be given all opportunities for help before they are considered unable to make decisions.
  • A person has the right to make unwise decisions, which alone are not sufficient to prove that they should lose this right.
  • Any act done or decision made under the provisions of this act must be done in the individual’s best interest.
  • Anything done for the person should be the least restrictive of their basic rights and freedoms.

Deputies are under a duty to apply a high standard of care when making decisions.

Limitations to Deputies’ Powers

Deputies are accountable to the court, and must send a report to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) every year explaining the decisions they have made. Deputies can be reimbursed reasonable and legitimate expenses, such as travel, but if these exceed £500, they may have to explain why. They are not entitled to remuneration unless the order authorises it, which is a significant difference between the Britney Spears conservatorship and deputyships in the UK. Britney’s conservators take a percentage of her income and a salary, running it like a business. This is a shocking abuse of a legal protection implemented to protect the individual.

Deputies are not entitled to execute the Will of the person under the deputyship, have powers in relation to the settlement of their property or exercise any power vested in the person, whether beneficially or as a trustee.

Any act taken to restrain the person must be proportionate and necessary to prevent harm.

Deputyship vs Power of Attorney

A deputyship may sound a bit like a lasting power of attorney (LPA) or an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA), however there are some key differences to note.

  1. Timing – Attorneys are appointed in an LPA before the person has lost mental capacity. Deputyships are appointed by the court for the benefit of the person concerned after their mental capacity has been lost, due to illness or an accident.
  2. Application – you can choose anyone of the age of 18 to act as an attorney, but the court must decide whether the potential deputy is suitable for the role. The application at court can take up to six months, whereas an attorney can be registered in 8-12 weeks.
  3. Increased safeguards – Deputies have to report to the OPG every year, potentially meaning that there is more opportunity for financial abuse by an attorney.
  4. Insurance – a deputy has to take out a security bond each year as insurance against the mismanagement of the individual’s finances. An attorney does not.

If Britney Spears’ conservatorship was in the UK, there would more safeguards in place to protect her from the abuse of her liberties that she has experienced. Arguably, how Britney has been treated is not the “least restrictive of her basic rights and freedoms,” as per the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and the way she has been controlled is excessive in time and magnitude.

Accepting a deputyship is a significant responsibility, and it is beneficial to seek legal advice to understand any court given powers. Blanchards Law have experience advising deputies or attorneys about family law matters, such as divorce, to help them make informed decisions in the best interest of the individual concerned. If you would like advice on a similar matter, contact us for a free consultation on 0845 658 6639 or at info@blanchardslaw.co.uk.

What are your views on the Britney Spears conservatorship and #FreeBritney?