The paper focuses on the Russian legislation regulating the practices in regard to people with mental disability who live in large state-run special institutions for disabled and indicates some trends in law implementation. Basing on the ethnographic fieldwork the author shows how the categories of “legal competence” or “legal incompetence” function in the daily life of an institution of this kind. Russian legislation has recently started to take into account the ambiguity of this rigid binary classification, but adheres more to the medical than to the social model of disability. In the everyday routines of the institution the particular configurations of rights available to its residents and restrictions experienced by them are not exclusively defined by their formal legal status.

Keywords: legal capacity, legal competence, mental capacity, disability, residential institutions