Access to Justice Equals Accessibility to Legal Services, writes Yvonne O’Sullivan.
- Inclusion Ireland has a project to support people to make a will
- Solicitors give their time free to help people with additional support needs to write their will
- There are many reasons why making a will is not more common for people with intellectual disabilities
- A new law supports people with making decisions, even in situations like making a will
- Inclusion Ireland can support people throughout the steps of making a will in this project
- Making a will is just one area where legal services should improve, making the law more accessible and easy to understand for people with an intellectual disability
Inclusion Ireland has been running a project for over two years, that assists people with additional support needs to make a will. As an organisation, we are supported by the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), a project under the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), which links non-profit organisations who have a legal need with legal professionals, without any cost attached. Through PILA, we are able to work alongside a law firm and another company’s legal division to find solicitors who would give their time to work with a person that needed extra support in making a will.
This project originated from Inclusion Ireland’s advocacy and community engagement work with individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, after identifying a legal gap in making a will. For various reasons, detailed below, the provision of legal services to people with additional support needs does not exist to the same extent that such services are available to the mainstream population.
There is a lack of awareness from both sides involved in making a will concerning a person with additional support needs. The solicitor might not be familiar with what an intellectual disability is; they might have misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities; they might not have the communication skills necessary to interact with some people with additional support needs; in certain cases, a person’s legal capacity might come into question. On the flip side, a person with additional support needs might not understand the importance of having a will at that point in time, might not know who to approach to help them with this endeavour or might not be able to locate a suitable solicitor.
Regarding the question raised above regarding a person’s legal capacity to make a will, with the passing of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and its pending commencement, all individuals should be presumed to have capacity. Therefore, in the situation of making a will a solicitor should presume at the outset that a person with an intellectual disability has the capacity to express their preferences and wishes by way of a will. This person could need support to help them understand the solicitor or in expressing themselves, this is where the provisions of the Act come into play. Different forms of supports to help anyone with varying degrees of capacity to make decisions will be provided for through the new Decision Support Service under the Act.
Currently this project gives some extra support to people with additional support needs that want to make a will. Inclusion Ireland provides training or information on intellectual disabilities to the solicitors involved in the project to ensure that they are more familiar with what does and does not constitute an intellectual disability. We can arrange the meeting with the solicitor and accompany the person to the meeting also. We provide Easy-to-Read information about the importance of making a will, and what the process involves.
This gap in accessibility to legal services for persons with intellectual disabilities, in one of the most common areas of law, wills, is only a snapshot of the wider inaccessibility issues facing this group in all areas of law, from civil to criminal law. The law should be a vehicle for all citizens to exercise their rights. Increasing accessibility and understanding of the law for all equally, will ensure a fairer society. This project is one small step in the right direction.
If anyone would like further information on this project, please contact Yvonne O Sullivan on 018559891.