Czech Republic enacts legal capacity law reform

21 February 2012, Budapest and Prague. Yesterday, the Czech President signed a new Civil Code into law. The new law follows a 7 year campaign by civil society organisations, advocating for changes to the guardianship law. The new law comes into force in January 2014, allowing significant time for judicial, administrative and societal awareness-raising to take place.

The previous law allowed courts to deprive people with disabilities of legal capacity and place them under full guardianship. At the end of 2010 (the latest data available) 25,975 people were fully deprived of legal capacity and a further 5,220 restricted partially, according to government data. Each year, courts strip around 2,000 more people of their legal capacity. As a result people are not allowed to manage their own finances, not allowed to decide where and with whom to live, not allowed to consent to healthcare decisions, to marry or even to vote.

The new law introduces supported decision-making as an alternative to the guardianship system. This enables people with intellectual disabilities and psycho-social disabilities to retain their full legal capacity to act upon their will and intentions. Further, the law allows people to write advance directives, a planning document which sets out a person’s wishes about finances and daily life. The new law allows for restriction of legal capacity as a last resort, but in doing so it introduces several new safeguards, such as time-limits, to ensure better proportionality than in the current system.

One of the main sources for the legal reform was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was ratified by the Czech Republic in 2009. Although the new legislation does not, in MDAC’s view, fully comply with the CRPD, it is a step towards full recognition of legal capacity of all. In fact, the Czech Republic becomes the first country to enact CRPD-inspired legal capacity law reform in the world, if we put to one side Hungary’s aborted attempt in 2010.

MDAC has been funding and working with the NGO League of Human Rights in the Czech Republic since 2008. Together, we took part in the law reform process by commenting on the draft law and organising advocacy and capacity-building events. MDAC’s work on legal capacity law reform in the Czech Republic has been funded by Zennström Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations.

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