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The right to legal agency: domination, disability and the protections of Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

  • Anna Arstein-Kerslake (a1) and Eilionóir Flynn (a2)


Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has created a revolution in legal-capacity law reform. It protects the right to exercise legal agency for people with disabilities with more clarity than any prior human rights instrument. This paper explores what constitutes an exercise of legal agency and what exactly Article 12 protects. It proposes a definition of legal agency and applies it to the lived experience of cognitive disability. It also uses a republican theory of domination to argue that people with cognitive disabilities who are experiencing domination are forced to assert legal agency in even daily decision-making because of the high level of external regulation of their lives and the ever-present threat of others substituting their decision-making. It identifies Article 12 as a tool for protecting such exertions of legal agency and curtailing relationships of domination.


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The development of the ideas in this article was a collaborative effort and could not have been achieved without the valuable insights and feedback of many other scholars in this field. We wish to particularly acknowledge the comments of Tina Minkowitz, Elizabeth Kamundia, Piers Gooding, Michelle Browning, Alex Ruck-Keene, Kristijan Gordan, Mirriam Nthenge, Theresia Degener, and Lucy Series for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. Alberto Vasquez, Sarah Hofmayer, Charlotte May Simera, Liz Brosnan and John Danaher also gave valuable feedback at a roundtable discussion on a very early draft of this paper. Any errors or inaccuracies are the sole responsibility of the authors.



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International Journal of Law in Context
  • ISSN: 1744-5523
  • EISSN: 1744-5531
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