Community care and the law Second edition By Luke Clements Legal Action Group 530 pages £30 Before the year is out, a new set of laws governing community care services will have been approved by Parliament. These changes - concerning charges for nursing care, the creation of care trusts and the exercise of NHS and local authority partnerships - will join the huge and complex body of law that already exists.

This legal framework has evolved over 50 years or more, reflecting different philosophies about rights and responsibilities of the individual, the family and the state. It has culminated in what Luke Clements calls 'a hotch potch of conflicting statutes'.

Many would agree with him that community care law is in a mess and crying out for reform. The need for consolidation of the law is nowhere more evident than in the 20 pages of this book that are devoted to tables of statutes, statutory instruments, circulars and guidance. Nowhere in all this welter of legislative activity is there any indication of a coherent set of principles underlying the legal framework, nor of any unified procedures relating to access, use or redress.

Unfortunately, no radical revision of community care law is in sight. This second edition of Community Care and the Law is therefore particularly useful, as it steers a course through some decidedly murky waters.

Full marks have to be awarded to the author for organising complex material in a simple, logical way. Issues covered include the law relating to planning, assessment of need, NHS responsibilities, residential and nursing accommodation, domiciliary services, housing, drugs/alcohol and HIV/AIDS and carers/advocates and mental capacity. There is also a section setting out the rules governing charges for community care services, and a chapter examining how disputes can be dealt with through the complaints system or the courts.

This is a reference book that has been updated to reflect legal and organisational changes since 1998. It also anticipates changes heralded in the NHS plan. However, it is much more than a dry, dispassionate account of the law. It is a surprisingly good read, with excellent potted histories discussing the origins of particular laws, their strengths and flaws. These accounts provide some interesting insights into injustices that remain with us today - such as the legacy of postwar legislation giving lower priority to the needs of older people than to those of younger disabled people.

What really makes this book come alive is Luke Clements' passion for 'good law' and its consequences for individuals who rely on public services. For instance, he describes the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act as 'the finest community care statute, providing disabled people with private law rights to specific services'.

He does not let his enthusiasm blind him to wellknown defects in this statute, but I sensed a deep regret that the time for rights-based law has passed.

Nevertheless, he applies himself to meticulous descriptions of the law as it now stands, showing service users and providers alike what the law requires in terms of procedural rights.

Mercifully, these accounts are easy to understand, for the author writes in a clear and down-to-earth way. This cannot be said of the legal judgements about particular cases that he quotes. Here, we get a glimpse of a Dickensian world, where Jarndyce, Jarndyce and Jarndyce steer contested cases through the Court of Chancery.

Luckily, Clements is able to explain what judges actually meant when delivering their judgements. It is right that this arcane legal world should feature in a guide to community care law, for it illustrates what users of health and social care services have to go through when they challenge unlawful decisions about their care.