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United Nations looks at disabled people’s human rights in the UK

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will launch its review of the United Kingdom as part of its 7th pre-sessional working group on the 13 March 2017. The Committee is in charge of reviewing the progress of states in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and their performance in promoting, protecting and ensuring disabled people’s rights. The UK ratified the Convention in 2009 and, as part of the review process, the government submitted a report in 2011 with an update in 2013. The Committee also received submissions from various disabled people’s organisations and human rights bodies regarding the extent to which the UK has given effect to the requirements of the CRPD in its law, policy and practice.

Among the issues expected to be addressed are the status of the CRPD in domestic law; the impact of austerity measures on disabled people’s rights, including access to housing, education, employment, independent living, legal aid, and health and mental health services; disability-motivated hate crime and the potential impact of plans for repeal of the Human Rights Act and Brexit. Other concerns raised in the reports include the increasing reliance on compulsory detention and treatment under mental health legislation; the growing number of suicides and unexpected deaths of persons with mental health conditions and/or learning disabilities; the lack of adequate investigation mechanism to scrutinise such deaths when they happen in the care of the state; and the Mental Capacity Act 2005’s reliance on ‘best interests’ standard and permitting the denial of legal capacity on the basis of mental incapacity.

The CRPD has signalled a ‘paradigm shift’ in attitudes and approaches to people with disabilities. In the context of mental disability, Article 12 of the CRPD has been vital for the lives of people who are deemed to ‘lack mental capacity’ by unsettling the equation between mental capacity and legal capacity. The interpretation of Article 12 by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also has played an important role in articulating states’ obligations to ensure the access by people with intellectual disabilities to the necessary support in exercising their legal capacity and the safeguards to prioritise respect for their rights, will and preferences.

Despite these advances in international human rights law (and to some extent, in national laws), their potential to secure disabled people’s rights and equality remains unfulfilled in the daily lives of those with disabilities. The reports submitted by disabled people’s organisations to the CRPD Committee point out to some of the shortcomings in the ways the rights of disabled people are enshrined in the law and/or put into practice, and suggest there is more to be done to bring legislation and implementation across legal, health and social welfare contexts closer into line with disabled people’s rights to equal treatment under the law.

The Everyday Decisions research project intends to look at these issues from the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities. We want to find out how well the English law protects disabled people’s rights, and in particular, how the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is translated into the practice in everyday decision-making. In doing so, we hope to address challenges affecting intellectually disabled people in their daily lives and develop new understandings of the relationship between mental capacity and legal capacity that may help operationalise supported decision-making.

The CRPD Committee is set to announce its concluding observations at its August/September 2017 session. In October 2016, following an inquiry requested by disabled people’s organisations, the Committee found “grave and systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities” due to austerity measures and welfare reform in the UK. The government strongly disagreed with the conclusions of the Committee and suggested that it would not act on its recommendations. We will be awaiting with interest the upcoming findings and recommendations of the Committee and the government’s response, both of which will represent another significant moment in the ongoing struggles and processes of legal reform in the UK and around the world to achieve full enjoyment of disabled people’s human rights and to ensure, under the law, their full equality.

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For UK Independent Mechanism’s shadow report and supplementary reports relating to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, see: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-human-rights-work/monitoring-and-promoting-un-treaties/un-convention-rights-persons-disabilities

For the shadow reports of Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales, see: http://inclusionscotland.org/disabled-people-hold-uk-government-to-account-over-human-rights/

For the shadow report of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, see: http://www.rofa.org.uk/uk-initial-report-on-the-un-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/

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