Tens of thousands of vulnerable pensioners are being forced into care homes against their will, an inquiry has revealed.
The damning report claimed laws supposed to protect the elderly were instead being used to take away their rights.
Instead, it suggests, many are dumped in residential homes to make it easier to control them, or simply to save money.
Lord Hardie, a retired Scottish judge who led the inquiry, said: “The evidence suggests that tens of thousands of people are being deprived of their liberty without the protection of the law, and without the protection that Parliament intended.”
The House of Lords report blames the Mental Capacity Act, brought in in 2005, which was supposed to help those unable to make decisions for themselves – something they say should now be rewritten.
Lord Hardie singled out for criticism the “deprivation of liberty safeguards” added to the act after the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights.
“In some cases the safeguards are being wilfully used to oppress individuals and to force decisions upon them, regardless of what actions may be in their best interests,” Lord Hardie said.
“We were told the provisions were poorly drafted, overly complex and bureaucratic.
“A senior judge described the experience of trying to write a judgment on the safeguards as feeling ‘as if you have been in a washing machine and spin dryer’.”
The legislation set up the Court of Protection, which is only now being opened to public scrutiny after a series of scandals.
The court, which uses a veil of secrecy, has been used to order people to be kept in care homes, and in other cases social workers have acted without legal permission.
It is thought many of the pensioners affected could have stayed at home, or in sheltered accommodation, after claims councils often find care homes cheaper than looking after complex cases in their own homes.
A provision in the legislation says those affected must be presumed to be able to make their own decisions, unless there is clear proof they cannot.
But the report said one academic thought this had led to “vulnerable adults being left at risk of harm, in some cases leading to their deaths”.
The Law Society said people were left without help because the “outcome is going to be that the state spends less on them”.
The peers concluded the act’s rules are “used to justify non-intervention by health or social care services, either erroneously, or in some cases, deliberately”.
In one case highlighted John Maddocks, 80, a retired painter and decorator suffering from dementia was taken into a care home against the wishes of his family after collapsing at home.
Social workers from the local council, Stoke-on-Trent, obtained a court order under the Mental Capacity Act confining him to the home.
They took no notice of the views of Mr Maddocks’ son and daughter, Ivan and Wanda, who said their father hated the home and pleaded repeatedly for him to leave.
When they took him out of the home to see a solicitor in September 2012, the family were taken to the Court of Protection, where in secret, Wanda was jailed for five months and Ivan given a suspended sentence.
Mr Maddocks later died in the care home.
The report offered 39 recommendations, and called for the scrapping and rewriting of the clauses on deprivation of liberty.
It also said the code of practice, the semi-legal document that tells social workers, doctors and lawyers how the act should work, should be torn up and replaced with a series of simpler codes.
The report also supported the opening of the Court of Protection to scrutiny and repeated demands for more openness from the judge in overall charge of its workings, Sir James Munby.
It said: “We believe that the reputation of the Court will improve with greater transparency.”
A permanent ‘independent body’, should be set up to oversee and monitor the workings of the law, the report added.
Lord Hardie said: “The act is not working at all well. That is because people do not know about the act, or do not understand it, even though many professionals have legal obligations under it.
“Those who may lack capacity have legal rights under the Act, but they are not being fulfilled.”
The 2005 act was passed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer only after a rebellion by backbench Labour MPs and in a rush in advance of the election.
A separate report released yesterday found that town halls are penalising the elderly by slashing vital services such as home helps rather than saving money through improving efficiency.
Official auditors found that massive cuts of 12 per cent in the last three years are placing families and hospitals under ‘intolerable pressure’.