'Urgent' need for law change


LEGISLATION DATING back to the 19th century governing people with an intellectual disability is antiquated and needs to be changed, it has been claimed.

Inclusion Ireland, the umbrella group for organisations working for those with an intellectual disability, said there was an urgent need for modern legislation to deal with mental capacity.

It said the consequences of being made a ward of court under the Lunacy Regulations (Ireland) Act 1871 can be “monumental” and the act needs reform as a matter of priority.

A person who is made a ward of court cannot marry, defend or initiate legal proceedings and cannot transfer residence (for example from a disability service) without the permission of the High Court.

Inclusion Ireland identified the lack of a definition of capacity as having “massive implications” for many people with an intellectual disability, older people with dementia and people with mental health problems.

It says there is no formal system to assess the capacity of a person with an intellectual capacity to make decisions.

It wants the Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and make good a promise three years ago by the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, to do so.

Ireland was among the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it did in 2007.

However, Inclusion Ireland maintains that new legislation is needed to set out a definition of what determines capacity and how it is judged and it is needed before Ireland can ratify the convention.

The campaign, which will be launched today, is supported by Amnesty International Ireland and the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin.

Six areas have been identified where legislation is causing difficulties: the ability to access education; make medical decisions; manage money; vote; to be involved in relationships; and to testify in courts.

Inclusion Ireland identified the inability to testify in court as a particular example of the problems with the definition of capacity. It cited the example of a woman with Down syndrome called “Laura” who went to the Central Criminal Court to speak about an alleged sexual assault, but the judge deemed she did not have the capacity to testify in court.

Her mother said: “Our world was devastated when the accused walked free and the competent young woman who was well able to tell her story was denied justice because she has Down syndrome.”