Students Staff

17 September 2015

Essex Autonomy Project helping Northern Ireland and Scotland prepare for UN human rights review

A £100,000 research project involving leading lawyers, academics and the Mental Health Foundation will help assess whether Scotland and Northern Ireland comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The Essex Autonomy Project (EAP) has been commissioned by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to provide technical research support ahead of an upcoming UN review which will look into CRPD compliance within the UK’s three legal jurisdictions.

Three top legal firms: TC Young Solicitors, 39 Essex Chambers and 11 Kings Bench Walk Chambers are working with the University of Essex based EAP team. The Centre for Mental Health and Incapacity Law, Rights and Policy at Edinburgh Napier University is also collaborating with the EAP for this project, which is backed by the Law Society of Scotland.

The team has already submitted written evidence to the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly’s Ad Hoc Joint Committee on the Mental Capacity Bill and put forward potential amendments while also organising a high-level consultation roundtable involving academic experts, representatives from civil society organisations, and the Bill’s drafting team.

A technical report will be delivered in spring 2016 and public meetings will be held in London and Geneva to report on progress towards UK compliance with the CRPD.

The issue is seen as particularly sensitive, as the UK has previously been viewed as a pioneer in its legal approach to respecting and promoting disability rights. Legal jurisdictions around the world have also looked to the UK for advice and guidance in this area.

The UK, as a signatory to the international treaty, is obliged to promote and protect the human rights of persons with disabilities, as identified by the CRPD, but questions are now being raised about the UK’s position. Part of the EAP’s work is to assess these criticisms and to consider how the UK approach might need to be modified in order to meet the highest possible standards of human rights protection.

So far the EAP research team has supported the Ministry of Justice’s review of whether the Mental Capacity Act (MCA), part of the legal framework in England and Wales, is compliant with the CRPD. This new project will extend that work to Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure all three legal jurisdictions have been reviewed.

Professor Wayne Martin, director of the EAP and project lead, explains: “The MCA applies only in England and Wales; this new project will allow us to undertake close study of the Adults with Incapacity Act in Scotland and the emerging legislation in Northern Ireland. The UK representative will need to report to the UN on progress towards CRPD-compliance in all three jurisdictions; our team will provide research support for that UN Engagement Process.”

Funding for the new project comes from a variety of sources. The AHRC has supported the EAP since its inception in 2010 and has awarded follow-on funding for this project. The AHRC grant will supplement funding provided through the ESRC’s Impact Acceleration scheme. TC Young Solicitors are also contributing to the funding and providing a base in Edinburgh for the project team to meet.

Additional funding and expert support for the project comes from the Law Society of Scotland, the Centre for Mental Health and Incapacity Law, Rights and Policy at Edinburgh Napier University.

Professor Martin will work closely with two co-investigators: Professor Sabine Michalowski of the School of Law at Essex, and Professor Jill Stavert of Edinburgh Napier University. Other contributors to the project team include Adrian Ward and Alison Hempsey (TC Young Solicitors), Alex Ruck Keene (39 Essex Chambers and University of Manchester) and Colin Caughey (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission). Pro bono legal advice will be provided by Jason Coppel QC (11 Kings Bench Walk Chambers).

The project will also involve close collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation, a leading UK charity devoted to improving the lives of persons with mental health problems or learning difficulties. Work on the project has already begun, with Professor Martin and Mr Ruck Keene appearing before an ad hoc Committee of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly, which is undertaking the review of the Mental Capacity Bill currently under consideration in Belfast.

Further details about the project can be found on the EAP website:

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