‘Vulnerable adults’ – a follow-up

Proving less is not always more, some helpful feedback received via the great echo chamber of Twitter suggests that I might want to emphasise two key points made in very short form in my proposal circulated yesterday.

The first is that the term ‘vulnerable adults’ was used because that is the term that the High Court in England and Wales uses when deploying its inherent jurisdiction to protect those adults with mental capacity but whom in some way are vulnerable to the actions of others. I have reservations about the term (not least as we are all, in differing ways and at differing times vulnerable).  As I noted in my initial post, one of the key aspects of any Law Commission project would (in my view) be to decide whether this is the right term.  Further, a key task would be to draw up a set of principles to identify precisely when, and why, intervention can be justified in the case of those who appear to be at risk of exploitation or coercion.  Insofar as there is seen in the development of those principles to be any overlap between disability and ‘vulnerability’ (or ‘risk’), I would want those principles to be derived by reference to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and, in particular, Articles 12 (the right to legal capacity) and Article 16 (the obligation on states to protect those with disabilities ‘from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse’).

The second is that I would see a key part of any project as being identification of those steps which can and should be taken which do not target the victim, but the perpetrator, of abuse, by analogy with the mechanisms and approaches that have been developed (painfully slowly) over time in relation to domestic violence. A major concern of mine is that offences such as the new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour or mechanisms such as domestic violence protection orders are not available in respect of those who are not in ‘intimate’ or ‘family’ relationships with those who may be subjecting them to exploitation or abuse.  A huge advantage – as I see it – of the Law Commission undertaking a project which can look across the board is that it can identify guiding principles and then deploy those principles across the range of measures that could be taken, whether they be criminal or civil.

Do please keep the comments coming, although as I run from pillar to post fighting (I hope!) the good fight, I cannot promise to respond immediately or individually to everyone.


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