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Judge ‘considered placing billionaire at centre of feud in nursing home’

A judge considered placing the elderly patriarch of one of Britain’s richest families in a public nursing home after he was diagnosed with dementia and became the centrepiece of a feud between relatives in a specialist court.

Mr Justice Hayden has raised concern about the welfare of billionaire Srichand Parmanand Hinduja, 86, after overseeing hearings in the Court of Protection.

The Hindujas topped 2022 Sunday Times Rich List and were said to be worth more than £28 billion – financial news agency Bloomberg says the family is worth about £12 billion.

But Mr Justice Hayden said Srichand Hinduja’s needs became “marginalised” by a family dispute, notwithstanding his wealth.

He has told how at one stage he had concluded that Srichand Hinduja should leave hospital, but he said relatives had not found private accommodation despite the “extraordinary scope and reach of their financial capacity”.

The judge said he had been driven to consider a placement in a public nursing home.

Gopichand Hinduja court case
Srichand Hinduja’s brother, Gopichand Hinduja (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Justice Hayden, the second most senior Court of Protection judge in England and Wales, has outlined concerns in written rulings published after public hearings in London.

Court of Protection judges consider issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.

Judges generally sit in public but normally rule that vulnerable people at the centre of litigation in the Court of Protection cannot be named in media reports of cases – to protect their human right to respect for private and family life.

But Mr Justice Hayden, who also hears cases in the Family Division of the High Court, has ruled that Srichand Hinduja, and others involved in the case, can be named.

Detail of the proceedings emerged on Friday after Court of Appeal judges in London had analysed issues and, also, ruled that journalists could name people involved.

Official Solicitor Sarah Castle, whose office helps vulnerable people embroiled in litigation, had represented Srichand Hinduja’s interests – and argued that reporters should be allowed to name him.

She said “open reporting” was “likely to provide” a “protective layer” for Srichand Hinduja – and considered that the “parties intense focus on their own issues” had led to him “repeatedly becoming marginalised in the Court of Protection proceedings”.

Reporters from Bloomberg, the PA news agency plus blogger Professor Celia Kitzinger also made public-interest arguments, and said they should be allowed to name names.

Mr Justice Hayden has relaxed reporting restrictions, imposed in 2020 following the start of proceedings, after concluding that “unique circumstances”, partly created by the Hinduja family’s “public profile”, had stultified “effective reporting”.

The judge said the risk of journalists creating an identification jigsaw when writing anonymised reports, or inadvertently breaching reporting restrictions, had “effectively closed reporting down”.

He said the Court of Protection litigation began in June 2020.

Srichand Hinduja’s brother, Gopichand Hinduja, had challenged the legitimacy of a lasting power of attorney, for property and affairs, Srichand Hinduja gave to his daughters, Vinoo and Shanu Hinduja.

Gopichand Hinduja had argued that, because of his dementia, Srichand Hinduja would have lacked the capacity to have created that lasting power of attorney.

The judge said at one stage Vinoo and Shanu Hinduja had told how they “drew on Srichand’s assets to fund their own costs of this litigation”.

He said it had been “further recognised and acknowledged” that they drew on those funds for “their own private purposes”.

Gopichand Hinduja court case
Vinoo Hinduja (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Justice Hayden said the “identified conflict of interest was so flagrant” and so “manifestly contrary to the fiduciary obligations of the attorneys”, that both Vinoo and Shanu Hinduja had “disclaimed the role”.

He said he had appointed a solicitor to act as Srichand Hinduja’s “deputy for property and affairs”.

The judge said Srichand Hinduja had been admitted to hospital in March 2021.

He said Srichand Hinduja’s “treating consultant” had told him, then, that the elderly businessman had “only a very short time to live”.

The judge said Srichand Hinduja had “confounded his doctors”.

Mr Justice Hayden heard how the family members had also been embroiled in a separate High Court row in London over family assets.

Detail of that dispute emerged about in 2020, when another judge, Mrs Justice Falk, published a preliminary ruling, and named the people involved.

Srichand Hinduja had sued brothers Gopichand, Prakash, and Ashok Hinduja over a July 2014 letter, signed by all four of them, which said “assets held in any single brother’s name belong to all four”.

He wanted a declaration that the letter had no “legal effect”.

Mrs Justice Falk said Srichand Hinduja had taken legal action against his brothers to “determine the validity and effect” of the letter.

She explained in that ruling how Srichand Hinduja was suffering from a form of dementia, lacked the mental capacity to give instructions to lawyers and had appointed Vinoo Hinduja to act as his “litigation friend”.

Mr Justice Hayden said he had been told that the family had agreed “heads of terms” intended to end “all disputes” between them in “all jurisdictions”.

Gopichand Hinduja told him that the “feud” was over.

Gopichand Hinduja had argued that reporting restrictions preventing people involved being named should stay.

Mr Justice Hayden had disagreed and lifted restrictions – Gopichand Hinduja had then challenged that ruling in the Court of Appeal.

David Rees KC, who led Gopichand Hinduja’s legal team, told three appeal judges that Mr Justice Hayden had “erred” by considering “irrelevant factors” and giving “inadequate consideration to relevant factors”, including: Srichand Hinduja’s attitude to publicity, the “actual extent” of information in or likely to come into the public domain, and the likely past and future effect of publicity on the funding of Srichand Hinduja’s care.

Mr Rees argued that Mr Justice Hayden had failed to conduct the “ultimate balancing exercise”.

He suggested that journalists covering proceedings had been interested in putting together a “volume of War and Peace”.

John McKendrick KC, who represented Vinoo and Shanu Hinduja, also challenged decisions made by Mr Justice Hayden.

Mr McKendrick argued that Mr Justice Hayden had been wrong to reject a “half-way house” approach to reporting – an order, which prohibited the reporting of details of Srichand Hinduja’s health, treatment, and care arrangements, in order to protect his dignity, without preventing reporting of the family dispute.

He argued that Mr Justice Hayden had been wrong to say property and affairs issues were “inextricably linked” to health and welfare issues.

Appeal judges Lord Justice Peter Jackson, Lord Justice Baker and Lord Justice Warby said people involved in proceedings could be named in media reports.

But they barred reporting of intimate detail about Srichand Hinduja’s health and care.

“These proceedings are highly unrepresentative of the bulk of the work of the Court of Protection because of the unique public profile of Srichand Hinduja and his family,” said Lord Justice Jackson, in a ruling on the appeal published on Friday.

“We accept that the application of a standard reporting restriction order to this family has prevented any meaningful reporting of the proceedings and the family issues that lie behind them.”

But he said there was “no conceivable public interest” in “intimate details of medical and personal care” being made public.

Journalists covering proceedings, and Professor Kitzinger, had stressed that they had no intention of reporting “intimate details”.

Lord Justice Jackson accepted that journalists covering proceedings would take a “responsible approach”.

But he said there was no “guarantee” about the approach that might be taken by “others”.