What’s in the new disability laws?

Government is undertaking proper steps towards implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, after this had been previously ratified in 2012. The existing Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act is being reformed, to ensure separation of powers between Government and the regulator, the latter being the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD). Furthermore, the new United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill is also being adopted.

In 2016, Government had already started to move in this direction, by making the Commission a separate legal entity, rather than a Government Board chaired by a Chairperson. The latest amendments to the law, that were launched for public consultation on the 19th of May, go further, towards ensuring that the Commission can truly be an independent monitoring structure for the Convention, as required by Article 33(2) of this document. TheJournal.mt looks into these proposed changes.

Through a new law – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act – Government is formally setting up a Directorate for Disability Issues, that in future will be attached to the Ministry holding the disability rights portfolio. This way, a future-proofed implementation structure within Government will be established, that has the possibility to grow organically.

This Directorate will also include a system for coordinating cross-cutting disability issues between different Government departments and line Ministries, ensuring a streamlined vehicle for implementing the National Disability Strategy, and destroying silo mentalities in the process. As also required by the Convention, Government is including the voices of people with disabilities and their allies in all relevant policy discussions, by setting up a civil society participation forum.

Government is including the voices of people with disabilities and their allies in all relevant policy discussions, by setting up a civil society participation forum.

All content related to the rights to disabled persons was shifted to this new law. Additionally, it was ensured that disabled persons could not only count on redress in respect of a few selected rights from the Convention, but that, in any discrimination claim before competent authorities, disabled persons and their families could now rely on all of the substantive Articles of the Convention.

Further to Article 13 of the Convention, while access to courts provided for in the law was retained, it was also made sure that the costs and procedural complexities of going to court would no longer be a bar to people seeking justice when they felt wronged. So far, people could only rely on the goodwill of the Commission to mediate any complaint that they had, possibly taking years, or else go to court, with all that such a step entails.

Changes to the law see the setting up of a simple, accessible UNCRPD Redress Panel, whereby complainants can lodge claims simply and effectively. These are to be decided upon within specified timeframes according to established rules, and with the right of appeal to the Administrative Review Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, in the interest of ensuring that both sides be heard adequately.

Finally, in line with the Paris Principles, it is being made sure that the Commission has real teeth, by ensuring that the Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act clearly lays out the obligations and competences of CRPD’s Investigations, Compliance and Enforcement Directorate. Not only do these amendments outline clear procedures to all involved, when CRPD’s officials are out in the field doing their work, but a fair system is also being ensured, that will provide additional safeguards. This will see that the rights of disabled persons are respected by all involved, with clear consequences spelt out for non-compliance, while an appeals system is being set up in the interests of equity. CRPD’s Test of Reasonableness Board was also reformed, in the interests of fairness, and to ensure better gatekeeping prior to possible litigation.

The public consultation period on these two bills runs until Wednesday, 16 June and one can find more information here.

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