Review of equal recognition before the law and legal capacity for people with disability

I, Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Attorney-General of Australia, having regard to:

  • the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a party and which sets out:
    • rights for people with disability to recognition before the law, to legal capacity and to access to justice on an equal basis with others, and
    • a general principle of respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy, including freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons, and
  • Australian Governments’ commitment to the National Disability Strategy, which includes ‘rights protection, justice and legislation’ as a priority area for action.

REFER to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) for inquiry and report, pursuant to s 20(1) of the Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996 (Cth):

  • the examination of laws and legal frameworks within the Commonwealth jurisdiction that deny or diminish the equal recognition of people with disability as persons before the law and their ability to exercise legal capacity, and
  • what if any changes could be made to Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks to address these matters.

For the purposes of the inquiry, equal recognition before the law and legal capacity are to be understood as they are used in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: including to refer to the rights of people with disability to make decisions and act on their own behalf. 

Scope of the reference

In undertaking this reference, the ALRC should consider all relevant Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks that either directly, or indirectly, impact on the recognition of people with disability before the law and their exercise of legal capacity on an equal basis with others, including in the areas of:

  • access to justice and legal assistance programs
  • administrative law
  • aged care
  • anti-discrimination law
  • board participation
  • competition and consumer law
  • contracts
  • disability services and supports
  • electoral matters
  • employment
  • federal offences
  • financial services, including insurance
  • giving evidence
  • holding public office
  • identification documents
  • jury service
  • marriage, partnerships, intimate relationships, parenthood and family law
  • medical treatment
  • privacy law
  • restrictive practices
  • social security
  • superannuation, and
  • supported and substituted decision making. 

The review should also have particular regard for the ways Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks affect people with disability who are also children, women, Indigenous people, older people, people in rural, remote and regional areas, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

The purpose of this review is to ensure that Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks are responsive to the needs of people with disability and to advance, promote and respect their rights.  In considering what if any changes to Commonwealth law could be made, the ALRC should consider:

  • how laws and legal frameworks are implemented and operate in practice
  • the language used in laws and legal frameworks
  • how decision making by people with impairment that affects their decision making can be validly and effectively supported
  • presumptions about a person’s ability to exercise legal capacity and whether these discriminate against people with disability
  • use of appropriate communication to allow people with disability to exercise legal capacity, including alternative modes, means and formats of communication such as Easy English, sign language, Braille, and augmentative communications technology
  • how a person’s ability to independently make decisions is assessed, and mechanisms to review these decisions
  • the role of family members and carers and paid supports such as legal or non-legal advocates in supporting people with disability to exercise legal capacity for themselves – both in relation to formal and informal decisions and how this role should be recognised by laws and legal frameworks
  • safeguards – are the powers and duties of decision making supporters and substituted decision makers effective, appropriate and consistent with Australia’s international obligations
  • recognition of where a person’s legal capacity and/or need for supports to exercise legal capacity is evolving or fluctuating (where a person with disability may be able to independently make decisions at some times and circumstances but not others or where their ability to make decisions may grow with time and/or support), including the evolving capacity of children with disability, and
  • how maximising individual autonomy and independence could be modelled in Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks.

In conducting this inquiry, the ALRC should also have regard to:

  • initiatives under the National Disability Strategy, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and other services and supports available to people with disability, and how these should/could interact with the law to increase the realisation of people with disability’s recognition before the law and legal capacity
  • how Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks interact with State and Territory laws in the areas under review, contemporaneous developments and best practice examples within the States and Territories, and
  • international laws and legal frameworks that aim to ensure people with disability are accorded equal recognition before the law and legal capacity on an equal basis with others, including international work to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. 

Consultation

In undertaking this reference, the ALRC should identify and consult with relevant stakeholders, particularly people with disability and their representative, advocacy and legal organisations, including through accessible formats, but also families and carers of people with disability, relevant Government departments and agencies in the Commonwealth and States and Territories, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and other key non-government stakeholders. 

Timeframe

The Commission should provide its report to the Attorney-General by August 2014. 

Dated  23 July 2013

 

Mark Dreyfus

Attorney-General

Published on 23 July 2013. Last modified on 24 July 2013.