Public Consultation - Adult Protection Bill for Northern Ireland

02 February 2021

Author: Jennifer Feeney
Practice Area: Healthcare
Sector: Healthcare


The Department of Health has published a consultation paper detailing the legislative options for an Adult Protection Bill for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom currently without dedicated legislation detailing the principles, duties and powers relating to the increasingly important issue of adult protection. The proposed Bill is intended to address this issue.

The Department of Health (and Department of Justice) previously consulted on the need for legislation in 2014/15 following recommendations by the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland (COPNI) in ‘A Call for Adult Safeguarding Legislation.’ At that stage, consensus could not be reached as to the need for legislation and what it should contain. Calls for dedicated adult safeguarding legislation have been renewed following the publication of COPNI’s Home Truths Report in June 2018 and report into Muckamore Abbey Hospital (in July 2020).

The proposals in the consultation paper draw on legislative reform which has taken place in Scotland, England and Wales over recent years and query whether similar reforms should be introduced in Northern Ireland. Some of the interesting points raised within the consultation are set out below:


  • It is the Department’s view that the definition of an ‘adult at risk and in need of protection’ should have a continued focus on harm arising from abuse, neglect or exploitation.
  • The Consultation queries whether the threshold for adult protection should be ‘serious harm’ in order to prevent a significant increase in the number of reports being made. This would be a higher threshold for triggering safeguarding processes than in other parts of the UK.


  • There is currently no general legal requirement to report adult protection cases in Northern Ireland. (A separate consultation is considering the introduction of a statutory duty of candour.)
  • The consultation is seeking views as to who should be subject to the duty, what must be reported and to whom reports must be made to. The introduction of a duty on HSC Trusts to make enquiries into an adult’s case, as recommended by the COPNI, has been suggested.

Power of entry to interview an adult in private

  • The consultation queries whether there is a need for a power of entry to allow health and social care professionals access to interview adults in private and whether additional powers would be required to support this.

Information sharing

  • Consideration is being given to imposing a new statutory duty on public bodies to cooperate with the investigations by the relevant HSC Trust and vice versa in adult protection cases. The duty could include a provision requiring organisations to explain in writing any reasons for not complying with the duty.
  • The consultation queries whether there should be a new power to access an adult’s financial records as part of an adult protection enquiry.

Offences of ill-treatment and wilful neglect

  • The existing offences of ill treatment and wilful neglect are only applicable in cases concerning persons who lack capacity.
  • The consultation considers the need for new offences to fill the gap to cover any mistreatment or neglect of individuals with capacity by a care worker and/or provider. Other parts of the UK already have similar offences.

Our Conclusion

Recent and widely publicised findings of serious failings in care settings has magnified the absence of adequate legislation to protect adults at risk in Northern Ireland. Whilst the detail will be important, the introduction of an Adult Protection Bill, with new duties and powers, should address the current deficiencies in this area with the result of providing greater clarity to health and social care workers and in turn, greater protection for adults at risk.

The Consultation closes at midnight on 11 March 2021. Reponses to the Consultation paper can be submitted online here.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.