Cross-border protection of vulnerable adults in Europe under discussion

Emily Deane TEPSTEP took part in the EC-HCCH Joint Conference on the Cross-Border Protection of Vulnerable Adults last week in Brussels, to discuss the ratification of the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults (the Hague Convention) at EU and global level and the possible future EU legislative initiatives in this field.

The event, organised jointly by the European Commission and The Hague Conference on Private International Law, brought together legal practitioners, judges, academics and government officials who deal practically with the challenges associated with the cross-border protection of vulnerable adults in Europe and beyond.

STEP’s EU cross-border expert Richard Frimston TEP joined panellists to discuss the need for an international and regional legal framework for the cross-border protection of vulnerable adults from the perspective of organisations providing services and/or protection. Richard was accompanied by representatives from Dementia Alliance and Alzheimer’s Disease International, AGE Platform Europe, CEOs in global banking and the President of the International Union of Notaries (UINL).

Richard is the coordinator of the Protection of Adults in International Situations Project Team and spoke on behalf of STEP as a member of the Board and Co-Chair of the Public Policy Committee. He delivered some pertinent points on the need for a protective framework for our increasingly aged society and those living with disabilities, and their supportive loved ones, including family members and guardians, in accordance with their human rights.

He expressed concern with powers of representation which are generally not measures of protection, unless confirmed with sufficient legal process, and the manner of exercise of such powers of representation being governed by the law of the state in which they are exercised. He argued for more balance between the protection and autonomy of individuals, and called for improved methods of powers of representation to be accepted cross-border.

The conference emphasised that this work is invaluable since the Hague Convention determines which courts have the jurisdiction to take protection measures, and which law is to be applied in circumstances when a vulnerable person requires it.

Importantly it establishes a system of central authorities to cooperate with one another and locate vulnerable adults, as well as providing information on the status of vulnerable persons to other authorities. Although much work has been carried out already, more could be done to improve the quality of European law, increase practical guidance in the European legal field and enhance European legal integration.

STEP is asking members for any practical examples of when they have encountered difficulties in practice in relation to England and Wales not having ratified the Hague Convention. Please email STEP’s policy team if you have any feedback on this issue, at step@policy.org.

STEP will keep you updated on the outcome of these discussions.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

STEP’s Special Interest Groups under the spotlight

SIG Spotlight Sessions 2017The end of November saw STEP Special Interest Groups’ (SIGs’) annual day of conferences, the ‘Spotlight Sessions’, held at the Montcalm Hotel in London and attracting over 300 international delegates.

The day started early with a breakfast-time Philanthropy Advisors SIG session. Outgoing chair Suzanne Reisman TEP welcomed attendees and contributed to a panel discussion, which also included Keyvan Ghavami of Act On Your Future, Jacqueline Lazare TEP of Royds Withy King and Julie Wynne TEP of Froriep. A lively discussion ensued, the takeaway point being that advisors are missing a business opportunity if they do not at least raise the issue of charitable giving with their clients.

The International Client SIG session began with Joseph Field TEP of Withers Bergman LLP delivering the keynote lecture on the changing landscape for international clients, quipping that events move so fast, that if you miss the news for 15 minutes, you can get completely behind. Tony Pitcher TEP of LGL Trustees Limited moderated a discussion on tax regimes, which included contributions from Luxembourg, Cyprus, the US, the UAE, Italy and Switzerland.

Bill Ahern TEP of Ahern Lawyers, David Russell QC TEP of Outer Temple Chambers and Wendy Martin of EY – Channel Islands discussed ‘attacks on intermediaries’ and practical issues in relation to the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Wendy said that implementing CRS was a massive challenge, and depended hugely on how you interpret the law. She asked what might happen to all the data required, and what could go wrong, before pointing out the gaping contradiction with data protection legislation that mandates privacy. David expressed his concern that regulatory requirements are making it increasingly difficult to open a bank account and many entirely legitimate people are being excluded from the banking system, and Bill noted that in a number of countries there were very good reasons for not wanting the government to know about your financial affairs, not least personal security.

The day marked the official launch event of the newest of STEP’s SIGs, the Digital Assets SIG. Leigh Sagar TEP of New Square Chambers gave an introduction to digital assets and the issues they present for estate planning and administration. Together with the panel, he presented the audience with some quite alarming scenarios which left not a few squirming in their seats. If someone has your computer password, they could empty your bank account. If you let someone else use your Facebook account, you’ve committed an offence. If a family member dies, you may not be able to read their emails, or access their accounts. If your relative left online gambling debts that needed to be paid, but you didn’t have the passwords, you would not be able to settle their estate. The panel discussed a number of ways of ensuring passwords stay secure and yet are accessible to those who need them. One of the simplest ideas was to keep a list in a sealed envelope. The session concluded with discussions on electronic signatures and wills and the important, and growing, subject of cryptocurrencies and their taxation.

This year saw the Mental Capacity SIG and the Cross-Border Estates SIG partner on connecting sessions looking at cross-border capacity. Drawing the largest attendance of all the sessions, the panels comprised speakers from 12 jurisdictions providing a round-up of existing and new laws in each, followed by an active panel discussion.

The Business Families SIG session then explored the unique considerations an advisor must consider in an advisory position to a family business wishing to sell, as opposed to non-family entities. The audience heard first-hand accounts from family business owners Ian McKernan of Molecular Products Group and Alex Scott of Sandaire, alongside experts from the advisor community.

The final session was presented by the Contentious Trusts and Estates SIG and focused on the rules against self-dealing, fair dealing, no conflicts and their exceptions, considering the rules in light of recent decisions. Their session welcomed speaker Vicki Ammundsen TEP, who had come all the way from New Zealand.

Joanna Pegum, STEP PR & Media Executive

Cross-border incapacity on a flood tide?

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus famously tells Cassius:

‘There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures’.

In the May 2013 issue of the STEP Journal I described some of the background and history of the Hague Convention XXXV of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults (Convention XXXV), which has now been ratified by the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Scotland and Switzerland. Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK (excluding Scotland) have all signed but not yet ratified. On 10 July 2013 Austria also signed.

Many of us think that it is high time that England and Wales ratify Convention XXXV. We find it impossible to explain to clients why it is not fully in force and available to help, in what are usually extremely distressing and stressful circumstances.

The EU is encouraging member states to ratify and more are doing so. Ireland is now following the current and is set to overtake its backward neighbour.  On 15 July 2013, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill (no 83) was published in Dublin, which will bring Irish capacity law into the 21st Century and enable ratification.

If more countries were to ratify Convention XXXV, the position would often be more straightforward. The UK Ministry of Justice should be ashamed and embarrassed that England and Wales has still not yet done so.

Catch the flood tide and avoid being bound in shallows and in miseries.

Richard Frimston TEP, Chair of STEP EU Committee and Co-Chair of the STEP Public Policy Committee