Supportive attorneys

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities says, “States parties shall take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity”.

The “supportive attorney” appointment is designed to support a principal to obtain the support they need to make decisions for themselves. The principal may give their supportive attorney three sorts of powers:

to support the principal to obtain information (s 87);

to support the principal to communicate (s 88);

to support the principal to give effect to their decisions (s 89).

For example, a principal would like to go on holidays overseas, but finds it difficult to obtain information about getting a passport, arranging visas, finding out where to stay. The arranging of a passport requires the obtaining of documents, such as proof of identity, the disclosing of information, the paying of fees. The principal may need support to do these things and may appoint a supportive attorney to help.

A core legal concept is that the decisions are those of the principal, not the supportive attorney (s 86).

The person appointing a supportive attorney must have the capacity to decide to do so and the capacity to make decisions for which the support is sought (ss 85–86).

There are limits on who can be appointed. The supportive attorney must be over 18 years old, not be insolvent, not having been found guilty of a dishonesty offence (see s 91). There can be more than one supportive attorney appointed and, if so, they can act separately (s 92). There is scope for alternative supportive attorneys (s 93).

The duties of the supportive attorney are set out in section 90. In essence, these duties emphasise the importance of the supportive attorney’s integrity. The authority does not extend to supporting the principal to make decisions about significant financial transactions (which are defined) (s 89).

At the time of writing (June 2015), the Victorian government has not released the form of appointment. The Act sets out requirements in part 7 divisions 3 and 4 relating to signing, signing at the direction of the principal, witnessing, and accepting by the supportive attorney of the appointment.

The appointment may be revoked by the principal at any time. It may also be revoked should the principal cease to have the capacity to make decisions (using our example, to decide to take a holiday overseas). The power is revoked by the principal’s death, the attorney’s death, the attorney becoming insolvent or becoming a care worker or provider for the principal, or the attorney is convicted of a dishonesty offence. The supportive attorney can resign (see pt 7 div 5).

VCAT also has a role similar to that set out above for enduring powers of attorney to oversee the validity and operation of the power of supportive attorney.