Understanding Legal Capacity

A young woman with an intellectual disability is placing her ballot inside a large envelope held up by a trained poll worker.

Legal capacity refers to a person’s ability to exercise their legal rights and obligations. For example, a person who has full legal capacity is able to sign contracts to buy or lease property, manage their money, or get a license to marry. Many countries will also connect legal capacity to other rights, such as the right to vote.

If a person has limited or no legal capacity, then they are not able to sign contracts, meaning they are not legally allowed to buy a house, get married, or manage their money. Often, this also means that people are not able to exercise other rights, such as voting.

Restricting a person’s legal capacity makes it much harder for that person to live independently and as a full member of society. Unfortunately, women and men with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities usually have their legal capacity taken away or restricted solely because they have a disability.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that people with disabilities have the right to equality before the law. All people with disabilities should have the same access to their rights as other people, and the same ability to exercise their rights. Courts, judges, and governments should not presume that a person with an intellectual or psychosocial disability is unable to exercise their rights just because they have a disability.

Attached is a fact-sheet that provides more information on legal capacity and describes how the CRPD protects legal capacity for all people with disabilities.

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