Human Rights and Equality Commission Appears Before Supreme Court in Ward of Court Case

Commission Appears as Amicus Curiae in Case

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has this week appeared before the Supreme Court as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) in a case that explores whether the procedures under which someone can be confined to a hospital or nursing home, and made a ward of court are lawful.

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

The Supreme Court this week heard appeals arising out of the circumstances of the case. In reaching its decision, the Court will consider whether AC’s confinement to Cork University Hospital and to the nursing home was carried out in accordance with the law, and whether the legal mechanism by which she was made a ward of court sufficiently protected her rights.

The case is expected to explore the nature and extent of the rights and protections afforded to people with mental health disabilities in Ireland, including their right to have their voices heard, and its outcome is likely to impact on voluntary patients in nursing home and hospital settings.

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

The Commission’s legal submissions contend that AC was unlawfully detained in Cork University Hospital, and that her subsequent wardship was not made in accordance with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and was also incompatible with Article 5 ECHR.

Also in its submissions, the Commission highlighted the need to move away from the default paternalistic approach to cases involving people with disabilities, in light of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Ireland in March 2018.

In its role as amicus curiae, the Commission makes available to the Court its expertise it 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:

“Most of our wardship legislation was written at a time when attitudes to physical and mental incapacity were very different, as the title of the Lunacy Act 1871 suggests. The Commission believes that this appeal discloses a systemic deficiency in the procedures governing wardship, particularly as they relate to the participation of wards and their families in decisions affecting their human rights.

“The emphasis on dignity and individual autonomy, freedom of choice and independence set out in article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Ireland last year, echoes the Irish Constitution, and must see us move beyond a historic paternal approach to one centred on a person’s will and preferences.”  

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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