Almost 2,000 people have been made wards of court despite an act designed to maximise a person's right to make their own decisions being signed into law almost six years ago, new figures show.
A ward of court is the term used for a person who is deemed by the courts to be unable to look after their affairs and who has somebody appointed to do so on their behalf.
The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015, which seeks to support a person’s ability to make their own decisions with legally recognised supports, was signed into law on December 30 2015.
However, the Act, under which capacity will be assessed on an issue and time-specific basis, has not been fully commenced yet, meaning people continue to be made wards.
Since 2016, 1,877 people have been made wards of court, according to figures from the Department of Justice.
Of those who were made wards during that time period, just 117 were minors.
The highest number of people were made wards in 2019, when 385 people were deemed unfit to manage their own affairs, followed by 350 people in 2017.
There were 309 wards in 2020, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the courts system, while there have been 176 wards this year to date.
Barry Sheridan, chief executive of Down Syndrome Ireland, called for the act to urgently be implemented.
“This leaves vulnerable people having their capacity challenged using the 1871 Lunacy Act, a 150-year-old law,” he said.
“It is unacceptable and shocking that it is still in place.”
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said it is working towards a date of June 2022 for full commencement.
Adults currently in wardship will transition to the new decision-making support arrangements on a phased basis over three years from the date of commencement, a spokeswoman said.
The Department said the delays in the commencement of the act arose from two principal factors: the need for amendments to the act and for the establishment of a support service.
“The decision support service, which is the organisation that will operate the progressive provisions of the 2015 Act, has to become operational and to be able to respond to the complex decision-making needs of people with capacity difficulties,” the spokeswoman added.
"Work is actively taking place on an Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill, which is expected to be enacted by year-end.”
She added: “The amendments will streamline processes. They will also strengthen the safeguards included in the 2015 Act.”