History of the Congress…
The World Congress on Adult Capacity (Congress) has been held every two (2) years since 2010, providing a global platform and focus for worldwide developments of human rights-driven provisions for people with mental and intellectual disabilities, and a powerful springboard for future research, reform and practical delivery. The first Congress (2010) was held in Yokohama, Japan, with subsequent events in Melbourne, Australia (2012), Washington D.C., USA (2014), Erkner, Germany near Berlin (2016), and Seoul, South Korea (2018).
While the Congress is aimed at professionals such as lawyers, doctors, social workers and researchers, it offers opportunities to share and test findings and conclusions of our current major coordinated, global review of all areas of relevant law, practice and research for all stakeholders involved when other people have the power to make decisions for someone else. This includes judges, policymakers, guardians, conservators, direct support staff, and anyone who may now or in the future experience a broad range of disabilities impacting their ability to communicate, such as developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injury, or who acquire dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other disabilities associated with aging.
This Year’s Congress…
This year’s Congress is being held in Edinburgh, Scotland, June 7-9, 2022, and will feature four (4) plenary sessions and break-out presentations that center around five (5) themes:
- Achieving respect for the adult’s rights, will and preferences
- Monitoring, regulation, remedies, and enforcement
- Law, policy and practice review and reform
- Rights, ethics and the law during national emergencies
- The adult and research
Plenary sessions, as listed on the Congress website, include the following:
Plenary 1: Congress Opening, Adult Capacity – The Present and the Future
The exercise of legal capacity is integral to individual autonomy. Many jurisdictions have been moving to laws, policies and practices which take a more inclusive and supportive approach towards the capacity of adults with mental disabilities. However, recent developments in international human rights law, notably led by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are requiring a complete culture change from systems which simply provide safeguards against unjustified intrusions in the lives of persons with mental disabilities to actively supporting and protecting the exercise of mental capacity to ensure individual autonomy on an equal basis with others. After an opening welcome, this session will consider relevant developments to date and the direction of travel in this area.
Plenary 2: Law Reform – Balancing Protections and Freedoms
Human rights and freedoms are universal. Everyone is entitled to enjoy them regardless of disabilities, but sometimes the enjoyment of rights requires that measures are taken to protect the person concerned or others. In these cases, a balancing of various rights and freedoms is required. Moreover, international human rights law is increasingly placing a greater focus on equality and non-discrimination in rights enjoyment and on the autonomy of persons with mental disabilities. This session will review processes of law reform, including approaches to balancing the protections and freedoms of persons with mental disabilities.
Plenary 3: Supported Decision-Making
Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires States Parties to ensure access to appropriate support for persons with disabilities so that they can exercise legal capacity on an equal basis with others. Often referred to as ‘supported decision-making’ the objective of such support is to overcome decision-making challenges so that the voice of the person concerned is heard and respected in the same way as for others who do not encounter such challenges. This session will consider how supported decision-making can achieve this objective and experience of ways in which it appears to be working, or not working.
Plenary 4: WCAC 2022 and Beyond
This closing session aims to sum up the work of the Congress, to identify some of the themes emerging from it, and to pave the way forward, including towards the next World Congress in Buenos Aires.
ABA Commission on Law and Aging at Congress…
Congress presents a rare and important opportunity for ABA COLA to be represented on a global platform and share the important work we are doing, but also an opportunity to learn what others are doing on issues of capacity around the world. For this year’s Congress, applicants were restricted to two (2) submissions. We were honored to learn that both of COLA’s submissions were selected for oral presentation:
- Highlights and Priorities of the U.S. 4th National Guardianship Summit
In May 2021, the U.S. National Guardianship Network brought together 125 advocates, family guardians, judges, lawyers, scholars, and stakeholders for the Fourth National Guardianship Summit. Delegates approved 22 Recommendations to improve and reform the adult guardianship system in the U.S.
Six working groups convened to address the rights of persons subject to guardianship:
1. Post-Adjudication Rights of Persons Subject to Guardianship
2. Supported Decision-Making
3. Limited Guardianship, Protective Arrangements, and Guardianship Pipelines
4. Addressing Abuse by Guardians
5. Fiduciary Responsibilities and Tensions
6. Developing a Guardianship Court Improvement Program
During this session, ABA Commission on Law Aging’s Senior Attorney/Chief Counsel, Elizabeth Moran, will highlight the top 5 Summit Recommendations priority areas, as identified by the National Guardianship Network and Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) in the United States.
- Effective Communication: Decision Making Supports and Access to Justice for All.
Effective communication is essential to ensuring that all aspects of judicial proceedings uphold every individual’s right to access and engage in meaningful due process. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. For courts, this means accommodations for litigants, witnesses, jurors, and observers with a broad range of disabilities impacting their ability to communicate, such as developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injury, dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other disabilities associated with aging. Accommodations that provide accessible court communication are key not only to procedural fairness, but also the administration of justice.
In May 2021, the U.S. National Guardianship Network brought together 125 advocates, family guardians, judges, lawyers, scholars, and stakeholders for the Fourth National Guardianship Summit. Delegates approved 22 Recommendations to improve and reform the adult guardianship system in the U.S. Among them, Recommendation 1.2: “States and courts must ensure that all judicial proceedings which may impact any of an adult’s rights to legal capacity provide meaningful due process.”
During this session, ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s Senior Attorney/Chief Counsel, Elizabeth Moran, will discuss effective communication, decision-making supports, and advocacy for systemic improvements in the area of reasonable accommodations in court proceedings for seniors and other adults with disabilities.
Congress presents a rare and unique opportunity for COLA to develop international contacts on guardianship and capacity issues, as well as future collaboration. We look forward to sharing highlights and key take-aways of this year’s Congress with you in the July/August issue of BiFocal.
Again, our heartfelt “thank you” for the generous support of so many of our COLA Commissioners.