Another small step towards Mental Capacity legislation

Law Reform Commission index logo, via their siteIn December 2006, the Law Reform Commission published a very valuable report on Vulnerable Adults and the Law (83-2006) (pdf). In May of this year, Carol Coulter reported in the Irish Times that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform intended to act on that Report by means of a Mental Incapacity Bill which would replace the existing wardship jurisdiction with an alternative system for dealing with the affairs of vulnerable people, which will offer them assistance in making decisions and protect them from exploitation. Today’s print version of the Irish Times (but not, so far as I can see, the online version; update: though it did get a mention in the paper’s online Breaking News section) has further developments:

Ward of court system to be replaced

Carol Coulter, Legal Affairs Editor

New provisions for people who lact the capacity to make certain decisions will be made in a Mental Capacity Bill, which has been approved in principle by the Government. The Bill will provide for the replacement of teh ward of court system, including a new definition of legal capacity and the setting up of an Office of Public Guardian to protect the interests of people covered by the legislation. … The legislation … will be published next year. …

The High Court and the Circuit Court will have concurrent jurisdiction for making decisions on capacity and appointing personal guardians. … [The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Dermot Ahern] said that he intends jointly to host a seminar on his proposals with the National Disability Authority next year and to carry out widespread consultation before the Bill’s publication.

This is a welcome development, but progress is all very slow. The UK enacted similar legislation in 2005; the LRC reported in 2006 after a long consultation process (eg pdfs); and a Private Members’ Bill to the same effect was published in 2007. There is enough consensus to move much more quickly than this. So, apart from caution, why the delay?

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