In its judgment, delivered by 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 woman at the centre of the case 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 court also raised specific concerns about the absence of legal aid in cases such as these, to ensure that 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”.
Individual's voice must be heard
In its lengthy and detailed examination, the Supreme Court also makes clear the need for the person to be involved in decisions that 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.”
In its role as amicus curiae, IHREC made available to the court the 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 section 15(3) of the Mental Health Act 2001 to be unconstitutional.
IHREC Chief Commissioner Emily Logan said: “The outcome of this case has significant implications for the rights and protections afforded to people whose ability to make significant life decisions may be questioned, including their right to have their voices heard, and to be afforded the dignity of being consulted on decisions which impact [on] 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.”