Based on the priorities defined for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the area of Justice, the Ministry of Justice of Portugal will host on 30 March 2021 a conference under the title Protecting Vulnerable Adults Across Europe – The Way Forward.
The relevance of private international law – and, specifically, the Hague Convention on the International Protection of adults – to the realisation of the fundamental rights of adults with disabilities features among the key topics of the conference.
Speakers include Salla Saastamoinen (Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, European Commission), Zampia Vernadaki (Secretariat of the JURI Committee, European Parliament), Philippe Lortie (First Secretary, Hague Conference on Private International Law), and Jean-François de Montgolfier (Ministry of Justice, France).
Older persons, people with physical, intellectual, sensory or psychosocial impairments, and victims of hate crime or gender-based violence are among those adults who may face particular challenges in exercising their rights, defending their interests and accessing justice in civil and criminal proceedings.
Cross-border situations may further exacerbate these issues by creating additional obstacles with respect to language, representation and differences in national legal systems. This can particularly affect ‘vulnerable’ adults wishing to exercise their right of freedom of movement within the Union. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the difficulties that this population faces.
These challenges affect a significant proportion of the European Union’s population. European societies are ageing and Eurostat expects that, by 2050, one-fifth people in the EU will have some form of impairment. This is likely to result in an increase in the numbers of people who may need support to protect their interests and participate on an equal basis with others in civil and criminal proceedings.
Since 2008, initiatives in the area of civil law have promoted the ratification of the 2000 Convention on the International Protection of Adults and discussed how to improve its application. Yet the overall situation in the EU remains far from satisfactory.
In the area of criminal law, the new EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights 2020-25 recognises the need to explore how to enhance the protection of adults in vulnerable situations.
In addition, since 2018, all EU Member States – and the EU itself – are States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As the protection of ‘vulnerable’ adults is one of the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU in the area of Justice, the Portuguese Ministry of Justice, the European Commission and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) are organising a virtual High-Level Conference on 30 March 2021.
This event provides an opportunity to reflect on the current situation and look ahead to what steps are necessary to ensure that all members of our diverse societies can enjoy their fundamental rights, including equal access to justice, in practice.