4.41 The Issues Paper acknowledged that, in recent years, police responses to family violence have greatly improved. It noted that some police agencies have specialist liaison officers or specialist vulnerable person units that can assist when the police are interacting with older persons who might be victims of crime. It also suggested that there may be some reluctance among police to ‘investigate crimes such as fraud when the victim has dementia’.
4.42 A significant number of stakeholders were supportive of increased police training as a mechanism to enhance the criminal justice system response to elder abuse. Some suggested that this could be best achieved through the training and deployment of specialist officers or specialist units, while others supported broader education campaigns to raise awareness of ‘elder abuse’.
4.43 Key concerns raised by stakeholders included that police did not always respond appropriately to ‘low level’ abuse, including neglect or financial abuse; and that ageist perceptions of older persons could affect police dealings, including that older people would not make reliable or competent witnesses.
4.44 The ALRC recognises that police in all states and territories are trained to respond to wide range of incidents. This includes training on identifying whether a criminal offence has been committed, and whether there is evidence to support an investigation. Police are also familiar with laws relating to protection or intervention orders, which can offer safeguards that can be, and are, initiated by police in appropriate circumstances including in respect of older persons suffering from elder abuse.
4.45 The ALRC notes that police receive comprehensive and ongoing training in respect of family violence, which is the context for a majority of abuse against older persons.
4.46 While some forms of ‘elder abuse’ are criminal in nature, there are some forms of conduct that would fail to meet the criminal threshold of harm, and/or the evidentiary thresholds required to commence and/or sustain a prosecution. The ALRC has heard that where it is not appropriate or possible for police to take action (for example, where an incident is not clearly criminal or where a victim is unable to make a statement), police need to be supported by the availability of appropriate and accessible referral pathways. The issue appears to be one more of availability (or lack thereof) and appropriateness of referral services that can support people where concerns responded to by police do not meet the requisite standard for criminal justice response.
4.47 The proposed National Plan, as well as other proposals (including those relating to a new investigative role for the public advocate—Proposal 3-1) will assist in bridging this gap.
Australian Law Reform Commission, Elder Abuse, Issues Paper No 47 (2016) 191.
See, eg, National Seniors Australia, Submission 154; ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service, Submission 139; Macarthur Legal Centre, Submission 110; Alzheimer’s Australia, Submission 80; Law Council of Australia, Submission 61; Legal Aid ACT, Submission 58.
See, eg, Office of the Public Advocate (SA), Submission 170; Seniors Rights Service, Submission 169; Older Women’s Network NSW, Submission 136; Legal Services Commission SA, Submission 128; S Kurrle, Submission 121; Legal Aid ACT, Submission 58; Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No 2, Parliament of New South Wales, Elder Abuse in New South Wales (2016).
N Smith, Submission 127.
The ALRC has previously recommended that family violence legislation recognise the particular impact of family violence on older persons: Australian Law Reform Commission and NSW Law Reform Commission, Family Violence—A National Legal Response, ALRC Report No 114, NSWLRC Report No 128 (2010) rec 7–2.