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May 14, 2010

A severely disabled piano virtuoso has made legal history after the country’s last remaining secret court was opened for the first time.

The Court of Protection, which controls the future of adults incapable of managing their own affairs, appointed the family of Derek Paravicini to look after his welfare and commercial future yesterday.

Mr Paravicini, 30, who is thought be the most advanced autistic musical savant in the country, is blind and suffers from a learning disability. Before yesterday’s court decision the Official Solicitor from the Ministry of Justice had been appointed to look after his affairs, rather than his divorced parents, Nicolas Paravicini and Mary Ann Parker Bowles, the former sister-in-law of the Duchess of Cornwall.

Through Mr Paravicini’s case, media organisations, including The Times, had challenged the secrecy of the Court of Protection. After the partial opening-up last year of the Family Court it was the sole remaining court where hearings were automatically secret. Since being set up in 2007, it has taken control of more than £2.3billion of assets.

Last November Mr Justice Hedley overruled objections from the Government that allowing the media to attend the court’s hearings would be a breach of Mr Paravicini’s right to privacy.

At yesterday’s hearing Mr Justice Hedley called Mr Paravicini a “man of remarkable accomplishment, a musical prodigy”. He said that details of Mr Paravicini’s life were already in the public domain and the “interests of the public and media are legitimately engaged”.

Giving evidence, the pianist’s father, a 72-year-old retired private banker, said: “Derek’s life is his music. He is very disabled. He expresses himself, fulfils himself through music.”

Mr Justice Hedley paid tribute to the family’s commitment to Mr Paravicini’s welfare and said that their “independence in the teeth of the ambition of others” would work in their son’s interests. He said that they had already prevented him appearing at an event with political overtones and stopped him appearing on a well-known television show because of misgivings.

Appointing Mr Paravicini’s parents and sister, Elizabeth, 40, as “deputies” responsible for looking after the pianist’s affairs, Mr Justice Hedley said: “They have satisfied me that they were able to withstand the pressures that may come to develop Derek’s commercial career at a pace greater than is actually good for him.”

Lawyers representing Mr Paravicini had opposed opening up of the Court of Protection, arguing that the media were interested in his private affairs, rather than matters genuinely in the public interest.

The Court of Protection was created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to deal with the affairs of those who lack the capacity to make their own decisions. Officials from the Office of the Public Guardian are appointed if people do not have a living will or lasting power of attorney handing control of their assets over to family or friends.

Problems often arise, however, when someone without a living will becomes suddenly and unexpectedly mentally impaired. Relatives must then apply to the court and to the Office of the Public Guardian for it to be decided whether they are fit to run that person’s affairs.

In its first 18 months of operation the court received 3,000 complaints.

Source:  http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article7125910.ece

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