Public Guardian Alan Eccles was invited by the South Korean Ministry of Justice to speak at the 5th World Congress on Adult Guardianship in October. Angela Johnson, Head of Policy and Practice, reflects on the visit.
“Seoul is a city of contrasts. Shiny modern skyscrapers jostle for space with ancient temples and traditional houses, and people wander the streets in traditional hanbok holding selfie sticks.
The World Congress provides an international forum for discussing guardianship systems and the protection of rights of citizens with reduced decision-making abilities. Over 500 international experts, legal practitioners, and academics from 40 different countries attended this year’s congress.
My overwhelming impression was the contrast between forward-thinking, rights-based discussions and legislative regimes that still fail to respect an individual with mental incapacity in many aspects. We heard inspiring presentations about schemes that enhance the lives of people with mental incapacity, alongside learning of some restrictive practices still in operation in many other countries. But the desire to improve and learn was common amongst delegates.
We heard moving presentations from service users. One young man with learning disabilities spoke of his dream to be able to own his own coffee shop and support his family, and a young woman bravely presented her frightening experience of being detained in a psychiatric ward.
We were challenged by the chair of the committee of the United Nations convention for people with disabilities (who spoke to us by video-link from Geneva) to abolish all forms of substitute decision making, and ensure that the best interests test is replaced by upholding the will and preference of disabled people. We debated this challenge at length and passionate viewpoints were put forward by academics and practitioners alike.
OPG’s Public Guardian, Alan Eccles, delivered a powerful presentation that positioned our work at the forefront of mental capacity planning. Ria Baxendale, Head of Supervision and Investigations and I followed on with our own workshops that discussed in more detail OPG’s supervision and investigations services. I feel enormously proud to work in a system that recognises mental capacity as time and decision-specific.
Our hosts the South Koreans arranged a brilliant conference, that challenged, informed and energised. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to learn from the work of other jurisdictions to see what else we can do to continually improve what we do in OPG. We found lots to unite the 40 nations present – the challenge faced in all countries by ageing populations and dementia prevalence, the need to educate and plan for mental incapacity, and a determination to continue to legislate and progress.
I recommend you take some time to watch the short film, Edith and Eddie which we watched at the conference and discussed with the director, Laura Checkoway. It is very moving and a powerful reminder of why the work we all do in the field of mental incapacity is so important.”