High Court refuses man's appeal not to be made ward of court

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly.

A man in his thirties with a mild intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, epilepsy and a serious alcohol problem has lost his objection to being made a ward of court.

The man had appealed today to the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, for “a chance” to live independently and “in my own place”

“I never had this chance, please give us a chance. I never had a chance in life, I’ve been going into a church and lighting a candle, I want a chance,” he said.

He strongly opposed the HSE’s application, grounded on medical reports, to wardship.

Reports from three doctors, including a court-appointed medical visitor, all expressed the view he lacks the capacity to make decisions about his welfare and finances and does not properly appreciate what is required to live independently.

He has a long history of alcohol abuse, was previously homeless and was arrested on multiple occasions for drunk and disorderly behaviour, the court heard.

He is currently living in supported accommodation with a small number of other residents whom he said he has nothing in common with.

His income is some €250 weekly from disability benefit and working a small number of hours for a firm. He agreed he drinks at least five pints nightly but disputed an alcohol addiction.

He said he goes to the pub because he enjoys a laugh and company and also enjoys his work.

His counsel Colin Smyth BL said the man understood the HSE's motivation in seeking wardship was with a view to protecting his life, health and property but he wanted to make his own decisions.

The court had to strike a balance between the HSE's motivation and the man's right to autonomy and self-determination, counsel said. The man had himself decided to live in the supported unit and was making decisions to take epilepsy medication and to spend his money in the way he does, counsel said.

If the court refused wardship, it could not be assured the man will not end up homeless but had to balance the competing rights and should give priority to the man's will and preference, he urged.

Ireland has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and Article 12 that recognises that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others.

The court should take into account a "revolutionary" shift towards focussing on autonomy and on the will and preference of those with disabilities, he said.

David Leahy BL, for the HSE, said all the evidence was to the effect wardship is in the man’s best interests.

In his ruling, the judge said the legal test is whether it is necessary and appropriate to take a person into wardship.

He was satisfied from the uncontroverted medical evidence and the man’s own evidence, it was necessary that he have court protection. That was also appropriate because there was no other mechanism to ensure he did not return to a state of homelessness and that he got the necessary supports.

The UNCRPD, while ratified, is not yet part of domestic law, the judge said.

Ireland had entered reservations and declarations to the Convention which allowed for compulsory care and detention in appropriate situations and for systems of supported decision-making, of which wardship is one, subject to appropriate safeguards, he said.

Those reservations appeared to leave intact the current statutory regime for wardship provided there are appropriate safeguards, and there are such safeguards, he said.

His task was to operate the existing law, the regime of wardship in operation for many years.

He was taking into account the man’s own views but those had to be seen in light of his own unfortunate history including brain injury, epilepsy and his “serious consumption of, if not addiction to, alcohol”.

He had little doubt, if left without court protection, the man’s condition will deteriorate and he will be at high risk of returning to a homeless existence, he said. The man had no real appreciation of all the disadvantages of that.

In all the circumstances, he was taking the man into wardship, he ruled. He approved extra hours of support for the man and for a substance abuse counsellor to work with him.

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