‘Archaic’ wards of court system to be abolished and replaced by decision support for people with disabilities

People with intellectual disabilities need lifelong decision-making support, says disability rights group

A rights-based decision support service will come into operation in April under a landmark law abolishing the “archaic” wards of court system.

The Assisted Decision-Making Capacity (Amendment) Act 2022 will, on a phased basis, double from 3 to 6 per cent the minimum target of people with disabilities to be employed in the public sector by 2025.

The original legislation was introduced in 2015, but some of the delay with it being brought into full operation arose from resource considerations and amendments.

Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman, together with Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte, have jointly announced that the Act, signed into law by the President in December, will come into operation on April 26th.


The announcement was warmly welcomed by Inclusion Ireland, which advocates for people with intellectual disabilities.

“People have been waiting a very long time for this,” said Julie Helen of Inclusion Ireland. “The key thing for people with intellectual disabilities is that they have a lifelong need for support with decision-making.”

Under the Act, the Victorian wards of court system will be abolished and replaced with a tiered system of assisted decision-making. About 2,000 people will be discharged from wardship on a phased basis by the High Court over the next three years. Three judges will be allocated full time to that task.

A Decision Support Service, which will process applications for new decision support arrangements, comes into operation from April 27th. Applications for decision-making representative orders will be made to the Circuit Court and three additional judges are being assigned to that court to help facilitate that work.

The Act also provides for the making and recognition of advance healthcare directives and contains key measures related to further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Those include the 6 per cent minimum target for employment of people with disabilities in the public sector by 2025. In 2021, 36.6 per cent of public sector bodies reported people with disabilities accounted for 6 per cent of their employees.

The ban preventing “persons of unsound mind” running to be elected to the Dáil will also be removed and there will be changes to the rules concerning eligibility for jury service.

In a statement, Mr O’Gorman said the scale of the reform involved, particularly the abolition of the “archaic” wardship system, “cannot be overstated”.

“Wardship as a legal system is older than the Irish State. Its abolition is a landmark step forward in modernising our laws and better supporting our citizens.”

He said the assisted decision-making system “will move away from an outdated and paternalistic ‘best interests’ model and allow people far greater control over basic decisions in their own lives”.

“This Act ensures that, when capacity issues arise, we address those issues with a fundamental respect for will and preference, for dignity, and for the rights of each of us to control our own affairs,” the Green Party TD said.

Ms Rabbitte said the targets for employing people with disabilities “place a shared obligation on our entire public sector to play our part and show leadership on this issue”.

Instead of being made wards of court, the Act means people who need support in decision-making can choose between three decision support options – decision-making assistants, co-decision-makers and decision-making representatives.

Applications for decision support arrangements will be made via the support service, except applications for decision-making representatives, which must be made through the Circuit Court. Once a decision supporter is appointed, the service will have oversight responsibility for decision support arrangements.

Changes will be introduced to the process for making an Enduring Power of Attorney arrangement. Such arrangements already created under existing legislation will remain in force, but the Act means new arrangements can only be created under a new two-stage process, avoiding costly referrals to the High Court.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times