Mediation services developed to deal with complex child custody disputes could be used to resolve cases of elder abuse if legal aid commissions are properly funded, the peak body for legal aid in Australia has said.
The mediation model was developed for use in family law cases and has an 80% success rate, the National Legal Aid chairman, Graham Hill, said.
Hill said the same model could apply to certain cases of elder abuse, particularly when parents are preventing an older person from seeing their grandchild, or in financial disputes where property has become shared.
The suggestion comes as part of a demand for more funding for civil law services to allow legal aid commissions to act in more cases of elder abuse.
“[Mediation] is so much better than court because court destroys relationships …whereas mediation tries to enhance relationships in a family setting,” Hill told Guardian Australia. “We have put to the attorney general’s department that this service could be applied to cases of elder abuse, which can be quite sensitive with family involved.”
At the national elder abuse conference in Sydney on Tuesday the attorney general, Christian Porter, announced a national plan to tackle elder abuse, to be developed by the Council of Attorneys General.
The plan was a recommendation of a report by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in June, and will include research to determine the scale of problem in Australia.
There is no detailed data on rates of elder abuse in Australia but the World Health Organisation puts global rates at between 2% and 14% of all people aged 65 and over experiencing at least one instance of elder abuse each year.
As of 2015, 15% of the Australian population was aged over 65. That’s expected to increase to 23% by 2055.
“So whatever the prevalence is, the absolute numbers will increase year after year after year,” Hill said.
Hill said legal aid commissions needed more funding to provide grants of aid and to conduct legal outreach services, which would allow lawyers to go to aged care homes and into the homes of people who are housebound by a carer, who may be the person perpetuating the abuse.
Last year, Australian legal aid commissions provided 1,500 grants of aid for legal representation, 4,000 duty lawyer sessions, and 17,000 instances of legal advice to people aged over 65.
Cases ranged from financial disputes to violence prevention orders and demanding visitation rights for grandparents.
“The family court has said that grandparents do have a right to have contact with grandchildren, but those rights are theoretical until legal aid has the funding to pay for a lawyer to go to court and get an order,” he said.
Porter said the national plan would include achieving national consistency on things such as powers of attorney. Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales have no requirement for such powers to be registered, which means that financial providers are not able to check if a person who claims to have power of attorney for an older person actually does.
He said the government would also look at introducing a centralised complaint system for people such as bank workers to raise concerns of financial abuse.
“One of the problems that bankers face is that when they see this type of thing at the coalface – when they see suspicious behaviour, if you like – that there’s no centralised point at which they can make a complaint,” Porter said on 2GB radio on Tuesday. “Now, very often it’s appropriate to make a complaint to police, sometimes it might be a public trustee or a public advocacy office, but there’s no centralised way of doing that.”
The draft national plan is due at the end of the year.
Full copy of the article from the Guardian, 21 February 2018 can be found here.