The funding is a response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response released in June 2017, which makes 43 recommendations on aged care, enduring appointments, family agreements, banking, superannuation and wills, health and the NDIS, social security and criminal justice responses.
The role of the EAAA builds on the work of community legal organisations that have targeted elder abuse for many years, in some cases with pro bono assistance.
Justice Connect’s Seniors Law program uses pro bono to support its health justice partnerships (HJPs) in Melbourne and Sydney. The HJP model is founded on the belief that people at risk of elder abuse who may be experiencing poor physical or mental health outcomes, poverty or homelessness, will often seek medical or social services rather than legal services. According to Faith Hawthorne, Seniors Law Manager & Principal Lawyer, “By integrating lawyers with health care teams to identify legal issues, the program also helps older people to navigate the complex systems and decisions they need to make.” More complex matters may require the involvement of one of Justice Connect’s firm’s pro bono lawyers, who have contributed around 3,000 hours to the program to date.
Seniors Rights Service in Sydney has also made use of pro bono assistance through partnerships with Baker McKenzie, Holding Redlich and Wotton + Kearney. These partnerships have contributed enormously to help combat elder abuse. Pro bono lawyers have assisted by responding to telephone enquiries from the public and providing legal advice, legal information and minor legal assistance.
In Queensland, Caxton Legal Centre and Townsville Community Legal Service (TCLS) are working on a co-design project with the Queensland Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors. The ‘Financial Protections Service’, due to roll out across 10 Queensland sites in late 2018, will use an outreach model to provide older persons with information and pro bono referrals for legal and/or financial advice about preventing financial abuse. The project will also deliver a financial abuse awareness and education program for financial services professionals, based on building core competencies around knowledge, skills and standards.
Given that various elder abuse issues are being tackled across the country, pro bono partnerships can provide diverse opportunities to enhance legal skills and expertise. Examples of work done in this area include:
- seeking return of funds misappropriated by administrators or attorneys
- establishing rights for seniors in ‘assets for care’ arrangements
- disputing guarantees and mortgages
- securing equitable proprietary interests
- drafting family loan agreements
- providing family law advice against abusive partners
- guardianship and administration appearances
- drafting POAs and wills to prevent elder abuse
Lawyers and law firms looking to explore opportunities to do pro bono work in this area should contact the EAAA or their local community legal centre or clearing house.
A national elder abuse conference, assisted by a generous contribution from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department, will be held at the Brisbane Convention Centre on 22 and 23 July next year.