Human rights laws are precious tools for older and disabled people and their carers

LawCentreNI squareCatherine Couvert is communications officer at Law Centre (NI), a not-for-profit agency which provides specialist legal support to organisations and disadvantaged individuals and works to advance social welfare rights and social justice in Northern Ireland.

This week was Carers’ Week and a good opportunity to highlight how the Human Rights Act is helping disabled people and older people receive the care they need.

At the Law Centre, we have a lot of affection for the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). We have often found them invaluable in our work for carers and their loved ones.

Because the Act requires public authorities such as health trusts to act in a manner that is compatible with ECHR principles, our community care legal advisers often use it successfully when liaising with the health trusts for clients in need of care.

John’s story

Law Centre (NI) resolved a delay in setting up payments for John*, a gentleman with complex physical needs, so that he could receive full-time care from his son.

John had been referred to the Law Centre by the Centre for Independent Living because his son had been his unpaid full-time carer for several months. This was in spite of the Trust having already determined that his father was eligible for the Direct Payment Scheme to employ a personal assistant.

When the Law Centre adviser contacted the Trust and cited the relevant healthcare legislation along with Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life), direct payments were set up immediately. The Trust also increased the level of payment awarded and provided back-payment.

John can now continue to live an independent life and his son can afford to be his full-time personal assistant.

Joan’s story

Joan is an elderly lady with Alzheimer’s who wanted to go back to living in her own home after a stay in hospital. She had the full support of her family in this decision but the Trust discharged her into residential care instead.

In this case, Article 8 (the right to respect for family and private life) and Article 5 (the right not to be deprived of liberty) were used to ensure that her wish was respected.

The Trust had decided that Joan lacked capacity and argued that the move into residential care was in her best interest. Her close family thought that she was capable to decide where she wanted to live and that she would be happier at home. They felt that the Trust had not taken their views into consideration and had not carried out a full assessment of Joan’s capacity.

The Alzheimer’s Society referred Joan’s case to the Law Centre. Our adviser contacted the Trust and pointed out that the failure to carry out a proper assessment before placing her in residential care without her consent was in breach of the Human Rights Act, in breach of capacity case law and in breach of the Department’s own guidance.

The Trust carried out the assessment, Joan was discharged and a care package was put in place so she could live safely at home. Her family report that her physical and mental well-being has improved.

Worth preserving?

Carers_Week_Events_2016_-_2016-06-09_00.04.07These stories show the importance of preserving human rights legislation so that people like you and I who find themselves in need of support at some stage in their lives have their rights protected when at their most vulnerable.

Carers’ Week ran from 6-12 June. You can check out the variety of events on the Carers’ Week website.

* Names changed to protect client confidentiality.

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  • Old Mortality

    Both cases are deserving of sympathetic treatment but using human rights law to establish material claims on the state is simply wrong. That was the clear intention of the attempt to create specific human rights legislation for Northern Ireland: to place dependency culture beyond the scope of democratic control.