NI: Protecting liberty ‘must be priority’ in rolling out capacity law reforms

NI: Protecting liberty 'must be priority' in rolling out capacity law reforms

Linda Johnston

Protecting the basic human right of liberty “must be a priority” in the roll-out of new capacity law reforms, a conference hosted by the Law Society of Northern Ireland has heard.

The Elder Law and Capacity Conference in Belfast brought together representatives from the legal, health and voluntary/community sectors to discuss the introduction of the first tranche of the Mental Capacity (NI) Act 2016 and its impact on elderly, incapacitated clients and their support networks.

Attendees had an opportunity to hear from a panel of experts on issues relating to deprivation of liberty and the need to ensure the new Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) are applied to protect the most vulnerable and those who cannot consent to their care arrangements in a care home or hospital and who may be deprived of their liberty.

A new statutory framework is now in place to require authorisation for any such deprivation of liberty, with tiers of safeguards to ensure scrutiny of the decision making process and the opportunity to challenge the legality of the deprivation.

Belfast lawyer Linda Johnston of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors, chairing the conference, said: “We acknowledge the challenges for those in the health and care sector in interpreting and effectively applying the new Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, which are essential to protect the basic human right of those with diminished capacity with regard to their liberty.

“Prior to the new framework there has been a legislative gap in Northern Ireland around the deprivation of liberty. It remains to be seen whether we now have a robust and effective set of safeguards to respect the right to personal autonomy when considering health and welfare interventions.”

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