Many countries throughout the world are beginning to reflect on reforms, measures and processes needed to enable the will and preferences of persons with disabilities to be identified, expressed and respected. This is happening in part because of the impetus for reform given by the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (2007). And it is happening because people with disabilities are themselves advocating for change to enable their own voice to be listened to and respected by third parties and by Government.
Reform has been slow to take hold around the world but is beginning to gather pace in some countries. Both India and Ireland are now well advanced in the reform process and have made considerable headway in developing a consensus on the need to move away from guardianship and toward a regime of supported decision making. They are fortunate in sharing a deep legacy of commitment to human autonomy in their respective legal and constitutional orders. In many ways the reform process in both countries builds on these legacy values. Draft Bills are pending in both Parliaments. The reform process – which has yet to start in most countries - has taken 2-3 years. The time is therefore right to reflect on the common journey in the hope and expectation of enriching it as it enters its final phase and in the expectation that others can learn from it.
This Encounter event brings together key players and figures in our respective legal and political systems to reflect together on the legacy of our past (especially the shared commitment to human autonomy), to share perspectives on the political process of reform toward a more support-oriented legal capacity regime, to share perspectives of those charged with drafting modern legislation and on the hopes and expectations of civil society in the process. It is not intended to produce an outcome in terms of a prescription of change elsewhere. It aims to provide an open space for common reflection on the shared journey – its anchorage points, its many surprises and how our political system is responding to the call for change.
Besides the fact that Ireland and India are well along the road toward a re-orientation of traditional legal incapacity law they also share a common legal heritage where concepts of human autonomy are etched deep into our respective legal systems. Our judiciary plays a crucial role in ensuring the rule of law and in honouring human autonomy. Our Parliaments are highly responsive to the needs of the community and can and do reflect deeply on processes of change. Our civil servants and parliamentary draftsmen are of the highest professional integrity and take the process of change seriously. Our civil society movements have matured beyond ritual incantations of rights into policy entrepreneurship and have become highly attuned to the need to interact constructively with Government to ensure a responsible process of change that benefits all. And our academics see themselves as playing a supporting and subsidiary role by bringing comparative perspectives to bear in finding innovative solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.
This Encounter – the first of its kind in the world - will be structured along the lines of facilitated discussions among the different layers engaged on the broad issue of human autonomy and legal capacity. No papers as such will be delivered. The audience is small (maximum 30 people) and mostly comprises those who are directly involved in the processes of change. The main objective is to give people space to reflect deeper –and with their peers – on the legacy value of autonomy in our legal order, on the political processes of change underway in both jurisdictions, on the challenges facing the draftsman in capturing a new paradigm, on the experience of civil society in the process.