Britney Spears’s conservatorship hearing and the documentary Framing Britney Spears has thrust the US system of conservatorship into the spotlight, sparking global outcry at the way Britney has been treated. The campaign #FreeBritney is fighting to end the conservatorship, controlled by her father Jamie Spears, arguing that Britney has been stripped of her most fundamental human rights.
Indeed, at her conservatorship hearing on 23rd June, it was revealed that Britney is forced to use contraception against her will (despite wanting more children), has been subjected to gruelling psychological evaluations and forcibly made to do shows and take bipolar medication.
“My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship and my management, who played a huge role in punishing me when I said ‘no,’ should be in jail,” the 39-year-old told the court.
It’s made many of us wonder: how is this inhumane legal practice allowed to take place in 2021, and are people subjected to the same thing outside of the US? In the UK, we do have conservatorship, but the term for the arrangement in England and Wales is called a ‘deputyship’.
“Conservatorship, or guardianship as it’s also known, is the US legal process that applies when a person cannot make decisions about themselves or their property – it is complex and can differ between the states,” says Katherine Smith, Senior Associate in JMW‘s Court of Protection department.
“This system is only in the US. In England and Wales, it is known as deputyship. The Court of Protection can appoint a Deputy and there 2 types: property and financial affairs, and health and welfare.”
According to Mincoff Solicitors, health and welfare deputyships make decisions around medical treatment and how the individual is looked after – but these are rarely granted by the court.
People may lack mental capability for a number of reasons:
- They suffer with a serious brain injury or illness
- They are living with a form of dementia
- They have a severe learning disability
A key difference, Smith says, is that a deputyship must operate with an individual’s mental health in mind, by acting in accordance with certain legislation which aims to empower those who lack capacity.
“Deputies operate following the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which emphasises that the person is part of and is supported in decision making, and crucially, the person’s best interests are to be paramount. Anybody over the age of 18 can apply to be a deputy; however, it is the court’s decision who is appointed. Typically, a family member or close friend will be appointed as a lay deputy or a solicitor as a professional deputy.”
According to Mincoff Solicitors, another key difference between UK deputyship and Britney Spears’s conservatorship is that in England and Wales, “deputies are required to keep a detailed record of decisions made in their capacity as deputy and submit an annual report to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).
Deputies may be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred in their role, but unreasonable expenses will be required to be repaid to the OPG and may result in removal of deputyship. This is distinctly different to the way in which Britney Spears’s conservators have reportedly been able to handle her affairs: taking a percentage of her income as well as a salary from the affairs they were appointed to manage.”
While the UK equivalent of conservatorship may be more considerate in theory, decision-making on behalf of another person is often contentious and can cause family rifts. That’s why most people in the UK appoint a legal professional in a deputyship department to act as a joint deputy and oversee the arrangement and handle affairs.