Supreme Court rules additional safeguards needed to protect disabled rights

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On Wednesday, one of the most senior judges in the UK voiced her opinion on the rights of disabled people. Lady Hale who is the Deputy President of the Supreme Court stated that disability was no reason for the state to deny disabled individuals their human rights. It placed a duty on the state to ensure that disabled people are catered for.

She stated that it was irrelevant that disabled people may be deprived of their freedom in care facilities where their living standards were comfortable, but ‘a gilded cage is still a cage.’

These comments came after the highest court in the UK ruled that three persons living in disabled care facilities had been ‘deprived of their liberty’ under mental health legislation terms. This ruling overturned previous decisions made by the Court of Appeal.

Charities involved with disabled people have marked this as a ‘landmark’ case for the protection of vulnerable people.

Lady Hale stated that it should be understood that those with both mental and physical disabilities have the same human rights as all others. She further stated that those rights may sometimes be restricted because of their particular disabilities, but the commencement point should be exactly the same as for everyone else. This flows from the universal aspect of human rights which is based on the inherent dignity of all humans.

According to Lady Hale, the state is not entitled to deny the disabled their human rights, but rather the state should make room to cater for the special needs those with disabilities require. These rights include physical liberty. She stated that this is not a right to do or go where one pleases, but should be more focussed on the fact that one should not be deprived of that liberty.

Seven judges in the Supreme Court analysed cases involving two sisters who suffered with learning disabilities and a male with cerebral palsy. According to the analyses, one sister was placed in a foster home and would not have had the ability to leave. The other sister was placed in a residential home, receiving tranquilisers and being restrained. The male exhibited challenging behaviour which required intervention and lived in a staffed bungalow.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the living arrangements of the three individuals did not show any deprivation of liberty. This finding was overturned by the Supreme Court. The man’s appeal was upheld unanimously, whilst the appeals of the sisters was passed by a majority vote of four to three.

Image credit: FuFu Wolf

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