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.