Report: Victorian ‘lunatic’ laws deny basic human rights to thousands

An Oireachtas committee has demanded that Victorian “lunatic” laws from the 19th century be urgently updated to protect the basic human rights of people with intellectual disabilities.

The Oireachtas justice committee said thousands of people were being denied fundamental rights — such as the right to vote, manage their own money or have sexual relations — based on laws from the 1870s.

While Ireland was one of the first countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities five years ago, it has still not ratified it.

A major document was published by the committee yesterday based on oral presentations to it and more than 70 written submissions in relation to proposed legislation on mental capacity.

“There is an urgent need to update legislation,” said committee chairman, Fianna Gael TD David Stanton.

“Our present legal framework on capacity derives from legislation in the 19th century, the Lunacy Act of 1871, and is totally inadequate to meet modern standards.”

The report said there were “major concerns” in how the archaic laws affected older people or people with an intellectual disability, mental health problems, or acquired brain injury.

The report said: “The committee was ... told that without legal capacity, one cannot marry, have a family, manage their own money, make medical decisions, have a sexual relationship, decide where to live, enter into contracts or vote.

“These are fundamental rights which are taken for granted by other citizens of the State and, therefore, denial to our most vulnerable citizens is unacceptable.”

The report said many parents felt they had to exclude children with intellectual disabilities from their wills as any property or money they might inherit would result in the child becoming a ward of court.

It said courts were not the right place to determine a person’s capability and that a flexible informal tribunal — made up of specialists — be put in their place.

* Read the full report at:


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