A man with schizophrenia, known as MS, who believes he is a prophet ‘one level down from the holy trinity’ has been deemed to have the capacity to donate 10% of a recent inheritance totalling almost £70,000 as a tithe to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
This is despite him not being a member of the church and his decision meaning that the local authority will need to pay for his care much sooner than would otherwise have been the case. Given concerns over his capacity to make the decision, MS's local authority referred the issue to the Court of Protection.
In the case known as A County Council v MS and RS  EWHC B14 (COP) MS’s mother had strongly objected to the donation as she felt that he did not fully understand the implications of it. She was also concerned about any potential pressure which may have been exerted by the church in relation to donations given they had previously accepted another donation when MS had clearly been unwell. This donation was later refunded.
MS told the court that he considered himself to be a powerful being, second only to the holy trinity of the Christian faith. He submitted in a letter to the court that this gave him '...a mount Everest of a credibility problem.'
In his judgment, District Judge Eldergill considered how much information was relevant and how much a person must understand in order to have capacity to make decisions for themselves. In the present case this meant how much insight MS had into his condition and whether it affected his capacity to make the decision to donate to the church.
It was held that MS's decision to tithe was part of conventional religious practice and could not be attributed to his delusional beliefs. In addition, just because some aspects of MS's beliefs did appear delusional, this did not mean that they all were. MS was therefore deemed to have capacity to make the decision.
Judge Eldergill also suggested that even if it had been decided that MS did lack capacity that he would have allowed the tithe on MS's behalf given the need to show respect for genuinely held religious beliefs.
The case underlined the importance of the idea that people should be assumed to have capacity unless it can be demonstrated otherwise and that unusual or potentially unwise decisions in themselves do not demonstrate a lack of capacity.
It can be incredibly stressful to have to make important decisions in this way. Our Court of Protection team can offer specialist advice and assistance with decisions related to capacity, best interests and Court of Protection proceedings.
Emma McClure, Court of Protection team