30 August 2018

MHE welcomes French step towards equal civil rights for people with psycho-social disabilities

It is estimated that around 700,000 French citizens are subject to some form of substitute decision-making. This status means they are often barred from participating in elections, but President Macron says this is going to change.


At an event in July to mark his first year in Office, Macron set out his plans for the future, which included a policy commitment to change the legal protection of adults. He promised to reform measures which currently prevent people subject to substitute decision making from participating in elections.


Macron announced plans to reinstate the “inalienable right to vote” of persons under guardianship (“tutelle”). If delivered, this would extend voting rights to around 100,000 people – between a quarter and a third of the 385,000 adults who are subject to guardianship and who have had their right to vote restricted.


Some have suggested that through this reform full guardianship would be eliminated, leaving a “better” system for partial guardianship in place. Others have voiced concerns that the reforms and alternatives to full guardianship could leave people with no assistance.


Since the 2007 Law on guardianship, France has had alternative tools to support people, such as the personalised social assistance measures system (MASP – Mesure d’accompagnement social personnalisé). This consists of a voluntary agreement with social services to support people to deal with their resources and be more included in the community, with no impact on the person’s legal capacity. However, this system is not being implemented due to a lack of resources, the contractual and complex nature of the agreement, insufficient communication by the public authorities about this option, and a lack of motivation by the county social authorities due to cost concerns.


In 2015, a system of “family authority” (habilitation familiale) to protect a family member’s best interests, based on a medical certificate and a decision of the judge, was established. It included the entire family as the person’s guardian free of charge, but there has been no subsequent judicial review of this system.


Although efforts like these to reform in favour of equal rights for all are being made, the attempt to reduce the cost of State-appointed guardians must be backed up with the funding and facilitation of supported decision-making regimes.


MHE and other disability rights organisations have long lobbied for equal civil rights for people with psycho-social disabilities. We therefore offer a cautious welcome to Macron’s ‘Versailles announcement’, but we aren’t celebrating just yet.


The path to electoral reform will likely be long and complicated, and it is not clear when these new rights will come into effect. In France it is legally impossible to change electoral law when a vote is less than 12 months away. With elections for the European Parliament set for May 2019, people under full guardianship will have to wait until 2020 (at the earliest!) to gain the voting rights Macron has promised.

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