A homeless man with mental health issues has been given a six-month jail term after a High Court judge concluded he had breached an order forbidding him to interfere with staff providing care to an elderly relative – despite what the judge called ‘negligent’ representation by a firm of solicitors who acted for him earlier in the case.
Unemployed Andrew Palmer, 52, was jailed at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London on Friday after Mr Justice Keehan ruled that he was in contempt of court.
Former lorry driver Palmer, who, the judge heard, had been living in a tent, admitted wrongdoing and apologised.
He said he loved his relative, who lives near Stafford, and was not happy about the care being provided.
Mr Justice Keehan had made the order in February.
The order barred Palmer from trying to coerce his relative into leaving home and from interfering with care staff.
In June, the judge had found that Palmer had breached the order and imposed a suspended sentence.
He activated that sentence on Friday after concluding that Palmer had continued to breach the order.
The judge said Palmer was in “blatant contempt” and must learn that court orders had to be complied with.
Social services bosses at Staffordshire County Council have responsibility for the care of Palmer’s relative and had made contempt allegations.
Barrister Nageena Khalique QC, who represented the council, outlined detail of breaches of the order to the judge.
Barrister Paul Spencer, who represented Palmer for free, said Palmer had mental health issues and would “struggle to survive” in prison.
He said Palmer was “isolated” and felt “very much alone”.
– In June, Mr Justice Keehan had criticised a firm of solicitors which had represented Palmer at an earlier stage of proceedings. He said Maidments, a firm also known as Forbes, had provided “negligent” representation.
He said an employee of the firm had “incompetently misunderstood” an issue relating to legal aid and the firm had lost a bundle of documents. He said the firm was “negligent in their conduct of their representation”‘ and should pick up a £6,500 bill run up by Staffordshire council. The judge said money had been wasted because of the firm’s conduct.
Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook described the sentence as ‘barbaric’.
Mr Leech said: “This man had to be represented for free because his earlier solicitors messed up the legal aid application, this is not the kind of person we should be packing off to prison, this is a case for mediation, social services and mental health teams – not prison.”