Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ceisteanna (9)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

9. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons who have been made wards of court since the passing of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47764/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

Is ceist dhíreach agus shimplí í seo i ndáiríre. How many persons have been made a ward of court since the passing of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015?

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 was signed into law on 30 December 2015 but has not yet been fully commenced. As Deputy Connolly will be aware, the High Court has jurisdiction in wards of court matters. Management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions under the Courts Service Act 1998. To be of assistance, I have had enquiries made and can inform the Deputy that the number of wards of court declared during the period 2016 to 2019 is as follows. In 2016, there were 290. In 2017, there were 325. In 2018, there were 327. In 2019, to date, there have been 316.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties.

It provides for the establishment of new administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the decision support service, DSS, within the Mental Health Commission, a body under the Department of Health.

Some provisions of the Act were commenced in October 2016 and progress has been made on preparing for the establishment of the DSS and commencement of the remainder of the Act. A high-level steering group comprising senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Mental Health Commission and the Courts Service, together with the director of the DSS, is overseeing the establishment and commissioning of the DSS and this work is ongoing. The director of the DSS is working towards being operational and ready for the commencement of the main provisions of the Act. This lead-in timeframe ensures that the necessary staff resources, processes, IT system, expert panels, codes of practice and regulations will be in place so that the service will have the capacity to be up and running effectively. There are many complex strands to this work, including involvement of multiple organisations, and the situation is being kept under ongoing review as the preparatory work on implementation moves forward.

I am aware of that and many other Deputies have asked questions and got those replies. The Minister has given me the numbers and I thank him for that. He might just clarify them. In that period of time over 1,000 people were made wards of court. Is that right? I did not quite get the figures.

Over 1,000 people have been made wards of court since the Oireachtas decided that this was not the right way to proceed. That legislation followed a long campaign. We have had numerous reports from the Committee of Public Accounts and from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality prior to my time and a review from the National Safeguarding Committee among many other reports putting us on notice that the system is not fit for purpose, it is outdated and that it is not in keeping with our obligations. Last night we talked about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the empowerment and enabling model. The Minister is very familiar with that. Any further delay is detrimental to this.

I am very conscious of the point raised by the Deputy and I am also very conscious of her interest and that of others in this House in this area of law over several years. I am very keen to see progress on the implementation of the legislation as enacted. The commencement of Part 8 of the Act, which provides for a legislative framework for advanced healthcare directives, is a matter for the Minister for Health. My Department will continue to work closely with the Mental Health Commission and the director of the DSS to deliver the full implementation of the Act. When the Act is fully commenced, the law will be changed from the current all or nothing status approach to a flexible functional definition, whereby capacity is assessed only in relation to the matter in question and only at the time in question. I would be happy to provide the table provided to me to Deputy Connolly now but she is right that the figures amount to in excess of 1,000 wards of court during the period 2016-19. I would be very keen to facilitate the continued ongoing working of all the parties to ensure the implementation happens as quickly as possible.

I appreciate the goodwill and welcome the setting up of a high level steering group. The Minister, however, would have to say that it is unacceptable if we have decided that this is not the way to go and we have passed the legislation, that over 1,000 people have been made wards of court in that time. He might clarify when it is expected the Act will be in full operation. There will be a further transition period when all the existing wards of court transfer out of that system. It is unacceptable that there will be a further delay. Will it be a few years before the Act is fully operational? Will we have 2,000 or 3,000 further applications and decisions made to make people wards of court when it is entirely unnecessary and, more importantly, totally out of keeping with the Act in its spirit and in the letter of the law?

I am sure the Deputy will agree that it is necessary that all the appropriate administrative processes and support measures including the setting up of the DSS within the Mental Health Commission are put in place before the substantive provisions of the 2015 Act can be brought into operation. Indeed the substantive provisions will be commenced when the director of the DSS is ready to roll out the new decision-making support options. The commencement of Part 8 of the 2015 Act which provides for a legislative framework for advanced healthcare directives is a matter for the Minister for Health. The commencement provisions provide for the establishment by the Minister for Health of a multidisciplinary group to make recommendations to the director of the DSS on codes of practice on advanced health care directives. In anticipation of the completion of that process the Minister for Health commenced the remainder of section 91 in December of last year. The key preparations are being put in place under the oversight of the steering group to allow for further commencement orders for the provisions of the 2015 Act to be made when the director of the DSS is in a position to roll out the new decision-making support options.