Inclusion Ireland, the National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability, has called on the Government to end its practice of depriving disabled people of their liberty via the Ward of Court system and State run institutions.
The advocacy organisation made its call in response to media reports of a man with a mild intellectual disability and alcohol dependence syndrome who has been detained in a psychiatric hospital as a ward of court without review for the past sixteen years. The man has been institutionalised by the State since he was a child and was made a ward of court in 1994. He has previously expressed a wish to live independently.
The system in Ireland currently allows a court to step in and act as an agent when a person is deemed to lack the ability to make their own decisions. There are almost 3,000 people in wardship in Ireland. The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act was brought into law in 2015 with a view to reforming this outdated, Victorian era system.
Sarah Lennon, Interim CEO of Inclusion Ireland said: “This difficult case highlights why we need to move on from the Lunacy Act of 1871. If an individual is convicted of a crime they are entitled to a release date, if they are detained under the mental health law, they have a right to a review, but when an individual is a ward of court, they are afforded fewer human rights, their status is changed and they are now considered a ‘lunatic’ by law”.
“When we allow a person to be deprived of their liberty for over a decade, with no legal review, we are ignoring basic civil liberties and freedoms”.
“Ireland recently ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after over a decade delay. That international agreement guarantees the right to not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. It also states that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty. In cases such as this, a person’s disability or a perceived capacity to live an independent life is central to the decision to deprive them of their liberty”.
While discrete, administrative parts of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 have been brought into effect, the part of the Act relating to the repeal of the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and carrying out the review of Wards of Court has yet to be commenced; the timeframe for the commencement of these aspects of the Act remains unclear.
Inclusion Ireland understands that it is likely to be 2020 by the time the Decision Support Service is fully established and the Government fully enacts the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act.
Inclusion Ireland is a national rights-based advocacy organisation that works to promote the rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families. The advocacy organisation provides a central forum to identify priorities and formulate nationally agreed policies to present to government, statutory bodies, other relevant groups as well as the general public. Inclusion Ireland campaigns for changes in services and legislation that will improve the quality of life and participation of people with an intellectual disability in Irish society in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.