More lenient approach needed in proving mental incapacity

The Office of the Public Guardian had previously said that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is working with the courts to review the court processes to make it easier for caregivers to apply to be a deputy for a mentally-disabled child (Deputy application not always required; Sept 11, 2014).

To date, the Family Justice Courts has only one form for Application of Appointment of Deputy under the Mental Capacity Act, which has to be supported by a practising doctor's affidavit and medical report.

There is also still no specific form for someone to apply to be a deputy for an intellectually-disabled person.

It is time consuming and costly to obtain a doctor's affidavit and medical report.

One also has to pay fees for the lawyer, affidavits and court filing, as well as other miscellaneous charges.

I appreciate the court's prudence in ensuring that a person indeed lacks mental capacity before entrusting his decision-making to another person.

But I implore the court to adopt a more lenient approach when the person is intellectually disabled and the deputy to be appointed is his parent.

Perhaps it could accept a letter from a special education school confirming the person's attendance there and/or a card issued by the Developmental Delay Registry as proof.

In 2015, the MSF, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) and National University of Singapore Faculty of Law started a pilot to simplify deputyship applications.

I was surprised to find that an affidavit and medical report from Minds' in-house psychologists were required.

Surely, this requirement should have been waived, since the pilot involved only pupils from special schools.

I understand that there was a low take-up rate, possibly because the pilot involved minors - their parents' consent is widely accepted and deputy appointments are not an immediate concern for them.

The pilot should have been extended to adults from the Employment Development Centres and Minds Youth Group.

While the Mental Capacity Act allows parents who are caregivers to make routine decisions without the need for a deputy application, the special-needs person may not have siblings to care for him when his parents are no longer around.

An unrelated caregiver may not be given the same power by institutions.

It is not fair to place the burden of applying for deputy appointment on an unrelated caregiver.

Betty Ho Peck Woon (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'More lenient approach needed in proving mental incapacity'. Print Edition | Subscribe