Commission Welcomes Supreme Court Ruling Clarifying Individual’s Rights and Protections in Ward of Court Case

 Commission Exercised Amicus Curiae Role in Case

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the ‘Commission’) has welcomed the judgment delivered today by the Supreme Court in a case that explored the lawfulness of the procedures under which someone can be kept in a hospital or nursing home, and made a ward of court.

In its judgment, delivered by Ms. Justice Iseult O’Malley, the Supreme Court held that the procedures under which the woman at the centre of the case (‘AC’) was made a ward of court “were flawed, in that Mrs C’s fair procedure rights were not vindicated”.

The Court also raised specific concerns about the absence of legal aid in cases such as these to ensure the person’s interests are protected, stating that this  “is a matter of real concern, given the consequences of a wardship order.”

The ruling stated that the notice given for the wardship hearing in the case “was simply too short to allow for any meaningful arrangements to be made for her views to be conveyed to the court” and further held that “the process lacked certain fundamental safeguards for the interests of the proposed ward.”

In its lengthy and detailed examination of the case, which is now being examined by the Commission, the Court also makes clear the need for the person to be involved in decisions which impact directly upon them stating “It is essential that the voice of the individual be heard in the process, and if she cannot speak for herself then some person must be found, who is not otherwise involved in any dispute, who can speak for her.”

The woman at the centre of the case, (‘AC’), was kept in Cork University Hospital in 2016. She was later made a ward of court and transferred to a nursing home. AC’s son (‘PC’) instituted High Court proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of his mother’s detention in Cork University Hospital and in the nursing home.

The Commission’s legal submissions to the Supreme Court set out AC’s rights under the Constitution of Ireland and the European Convention on Human Rights (the ‘ECHR’) and explored whether they were breached.

In its role as amicus curiae, the Commission made available to the Court the expertise it has gained in the landmark cases L v Clinical Director of Saint Patrick’s Hospital and Ors, which clarified the rights of voluntary patients in approved centres, and AB v Clinical Director of Saint Loman’s and Ors, which found s.15(3) of the Mental Health Act 2001 to be unconstitutional.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“The outcome of this case has significant implications for the rights and protections afforded to people whose ability to make significant life decision may be questioned, including their right to have their voices heard and to be afforded the dignity of being consulted on decisions which impact their lives.

 “In particular the Commission welcomes the Supreme Court’s statement that makes it clear that people with disabilities are protected by the same constitutional guarantees and legal protections as any other person.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The Commission’s written submissions to the Supreme Court are available at the following link:

https://www.ihrec.ie/documents/ac-and-others-vrs-cork-university-hospital-and-others/

The amicus curiae function of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The Commission’s functions under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 include that of applying for liberty to appear as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the superior courts in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

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