Sophia is the editor of Chambers’ forthcoming blog, Medical Treatment: Decisions and the Law
Experience and expertise
Sophia’s core practice is in medical treatment and welfare cases in the Court of Protection, in which she previously specialised at the Official Solicitor’s office. Sophia is regularly instructed by Trusts, CCGs and local authorities, as well as the Official Solicitor, RPRs and family members. She frequently advises on urgent medical treatment cases in respect of adults and children, both in the Court of Protection and under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court. She works mainly on more complex cases, particularly where there is a difficult point of law, interlinked issues of mental health or community care law, or related Human Rights Act claims.
Sophia’s practice also includes related work on community care and mental health law, including funding obligations and disputes as to the public authority responsible for funding health and social care; she has also been instructed on displacement of nearest relative cases under s29 MHA 1983.
Sophia also undertakes inquest work, especially where there is a mental health aspect of the case. She is currently instructed on an article 2 inquest arising out of a suicide where wide ranging criticism has been made of diverse public services.
Sophia maintains an interest in researching and writing on the areas of practice which she covers. She is Case Reports Editor for the Elder Law Journal, covering CoP health and welfare cases, and also edits Chambers’ forthcoming blog for Medical Treatment: Decisions and the Law, having made a major contribution to editing the most recent edition of this book. She also regularly gives talks and training to solicitors and front line workers in her fields of practice.
In all her work, Sophia combines an enthusiasm for getting down to the bottom of a case and researching intricate points of law with a pragmatic awareness of what different clients really want to achieve. She considers that while fighting the client’s corner, it is good to look at other angles, including the Court’s, in order to give the best advice.
Before working at the Official Solicitor’s office, Sophia worked as an advisory lawyer at Hampshire County Council, which has given her a personal understanding of how public authorities work and some of the difficulties they face in court proceedings. She dealt with all aspects of community care and mental health law and enjoyed the breadth of practice. She was also responsible for providing advice on all aspects of data protection and freedom of information law to all departments within the authority.
Sophia started her legal career at the Bar at 5 Raymond Buildings doing libel and media law. Her cases there included the BA v Virgin Atlantic ‘dirty tricks’ case, and a long running libel action arising out of a BBC Panorama programme concerning the allegedly disastrous side effects of a sleeping pill. She regularly worked as a night lawyer, giving pre-publication advice to newspapers, which gave her valuable experience of giving urgent advice in a commercial setting to editors of several national newspapers.
Cases and work of note
Sophia is currently instructed in a number of complex Court of Protection cases including claims for breach of human rights, and cases where two family members lack decision making capacity and the Court must balance the competing interests of each. She has also recently advised on a range of applications to carry out medical treatment on incapacitated adults and children, including one involving cross border issues and several emergency applications.
Cheshire & Wirral NHS Trust v Z: Sophia was instructed by the Official Solicitor on behalf of a woman with chronic and severe anorexia (‘Z’), on an application by the Cheshire & Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Z had suffered from anorexia since she was 15, and was now in her 40s. The Trust proposed three alternative options: forcibly feeding Z by restraint, doing the same by sedation, or discharging her from hospital and allowing her to return to live with her parents, and receive treatment only as and when she wished. The first two options were fraught with physical risk, because of Z’s frail condition; both the Trust and the instructed expert, Dr Glover, also considered forcible feeding by either route to be inhumane, because of the acute distress it would cause to Z. Z was known to do better at least emotionally when she was left to herself and not given compulsory or coercive treatment. The Trust therefore wished to discharge Z from detention and to implement this third option. Hayden J agreed and approved the proposed care plan, saying that this was ‘the only proposal which carries any vestige of hope and most effectively preserves Z’s dignity and autonomy.’
In HN (Out of Hours Application)  EWCOP 43, Sophia was instructed by an acute Trust which needed to carry out urgent surgery on a woman following her attempted suicide. The application had to be made ex parte and out of hours. Sophia drafted the required documents and advised on the necessary evidence; the outcome was that the application was successful after a short telephone hearing without oral evidence being required, and the surgeons were able to operate the next morning.
Whilst at the Official Solicitor’s office, Sophia had conduct of several cases of lasting significance including:
- A NHS Trust v Dr A  EWCOP 2442: an application to force feed an Iranian asylum seeker who had gone on hunger strike in an attempt to force the UKBA to return his passport. This is a critical case on the interface between the MHA 1983 and MCA 2005, identifying the new ‘gap’ between MCA Sch 1A and the MHA in the case of patients detained under s3 MHA who require a further deprivation of their residual liberty in order to receive treatment for a physical disorder. The case is an authority for use of inherent jurisdiction for patients who fall into this gap.
- NHS Trust & Ors v FG (Rev 1)  EWCOP 30: the leading case on applications for the court’s approval of obstetric treatment plans including caesarean section; Keehan J provided key guidance as to the procedure which applicants in these cases should follow. The guidance has since been applied to other serious medical treatment cases where deprivation of liberty or restraint is an issue.
- AJ (Deprivation Of Liberty Safeguards)  EWCOP 5: key judgment (described as ‘Neary No.2’) on articles 5(1), (4) and 8 ECHR, and the role of local authorities, RPRs and IMCAs in challenging a deprivation of liberty.
- Re N  EWCOP 76: the daughter of a lady with advanced multiple sclerosis sought withdrawal of CANH to enable her mother to die with dignity. This was a landmark judgment in the evolution of the law relating to withdrawal of CANH in those with minimal consciousness, as the courts had previously sanctioned withdrawal only in cases where the patient was in a persistent vegetative state.
Seminars / lectures
Sophia has given a number of talks and training seminars including a recent talk on The Rule of Personal Presence – Involvement of P in Court of Protection Proceedings; and training to IMCAs on medical treatment cases and how to be a litigation friend.
The work I am lucky enough to do reaches far into people’s private lives and thoughts. Few of us ever expect to end up in court over matters such as where we live, what medical treatment we have, and who we see, marry or have sex with. At the same time, the prevailing mood of austerity in public services casts a long shadow into the courtroom and creates an underlying tension as to how people who need public services can best be looked after. For the lawyers, it is interesting and demanding work, but for those caught up in proceedings, it is an intrusive and stressful experience. Lawyers need to be sensitive to that.
“I love researching intricate legal points, but I always remain pragmatic and remember what my client wants and how the court will view what we do.”
Whichever party I am for, I like to consider the case in overview, to see where it is going and how to get the best result for my client in the long run. Sometimes there are other routes to a good solution such as some form of mediation, which may allow fractured relationships between public authorities and those who use their services to rebuild for the future, when the case is long over but those people still have to work together. Or there may be different legal routes using other areas of law (such as community care, judicial review, international treaty obligations), which can cut through the need for long and expensive court proceedings.
If we may be going to court, it’s my job to consider how the case will appear to the judge, who will have other sides to the story to think about. I love digging down to the bottom of a case, and I love researching intricate legal points, but I always remain pragmatic and remember what my client wants and how the court will view what we do. That’s the way I can fight my client’s corner best.
Sophia studied at King’s College, Cambridge, doing an English degree (MA) before studying Law, in which she has a First. She also has a postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Laws degree (BCL) from New College Oxford.
For further details of Sophia’s practice please click on the links to the left or contact a member of the clerking or client service team.
For further details of Sophia’s practice please see her specialist profiles or contact a member of the clerking or client service team here.
Bar Council Membership No: 26029
Registered Name: Sophia Roper