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Carers Can Help Vulnerable Clients Visit Sex Workers

May 4, 2021

A senior judge has ruled it is lawful for carers in specific circumstances to help clients find and pay for sex.

The ruling found it would be wrong to stop them helping a 27-year-old man with mental disabilities fulfilling a natural desire.

The landmark ruling could have major implications for others.

Ministers have been given permission to appeal the judgment because of its implications for policies on combating prostitution.

The Court of Protection, which made the ruling, is dedicated to taking decisions for people who lack the mental capacity to live independent and safe lives.

The young man at the centre of the case, known only as C, is fit and healthy but lives with carers because he needs daily help with many parts of his life.

He has autism and a genetic disorder – but Mr Justice Hayden said that after speaking to C, he found that he was happy and well-supported.

The court heard that C knew he would probably never find a girlfriend but he nevertheless wanted to experience sex – and so he had asked his carers if they could find him a sex worker who would be paid for their services.

That request led to a hearing at the Court of Protection because it was not clear to C’s carers whether they would act illegally if they agreed to help.

Under England’s complex prostitution laws, paying for sex is a not a crime – but actions that encourage its arrangement are.

C’s carers also feared they could be jailed for up to 10 years for inciting a vulnerable person into a sexual relationship.

In a landmark judgment, Mr Justice Hayden ruled that the aim of sexual offences laws was to prevent abuse, rather than stand in the way of C’s request.

If the law banned the carers from helping C, that would be discrimination because anyone else without his condition could lawfully pay for sex.

“It is important to recognise that those with mental health disorders have, in the past, effectively been prevented, by the law, from engaging in sexual relations,” said the judge.

“It is no longer the objective of the law to prevent people with mental disorders from having sexual relationships, rather it is to criminalise the exploitation and abuse of such adults by those with whom they are in a relationship of trust.”

The judge said that a second legal question – whether a paid sexual relationship would genuinely be in C’s best interests – could only be considered once a specific plan had been devised.

Lawyers for Justice Secretary Robert Buckland are now appealing the ruling. They had argued that granting permission to the carers to help C would undermine attempts to reduce prostitution by using the state’s care services to facilitate it.

But Mr Justice Hayden said the government’s objective was “logically unsustainable”.

“While it is entirely understandable that [secretary of state] would not wish to be seen to act in a way which might be perceived as encouraging prostitution, the fact remains that the act is legal.

“The secretary of state may not obstruct those who wish to participate in lawful transactions nor, logically, those who wish to help them be they carers or otherwise.”

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