The ACT legal profession is unhappy with new reforms introduced into the Legislative Assembly today, Thursday 7 May, which will see organisations and carers criminally liable for the abuse or exploitation of vulnerable members in the community.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said “many elderly and disabled community members require support to manage day-to-day tasks and can be particularly vulnerable to physical, psychological and financial abuse”.
“While physical abuse is already a criminal offence, these reforms will ensure those whose abuse results in psychological and financial harm to a vulnerable person can be held criminally accountable.”
The term ‘vulnerable person’ has been used to describe an adult who either has a disability, or someone 60 or older and who has an additional vulnerability in addition to their age, which could include illness, disability or social isolation.
The ACT Law Society has slammed the ACT Government for the reforms, labelling them “flawed legislation” and a “missed opportunity”.
“The Government’s proposals are a poorly thought out response to what is a complex problem,” said ACT Law Society president, Chris Donohue.
“The bill will create an effectively arbitrary offence provision that duplicates offences already applying in the ACT.”
Mr Donohue also criticised the “poor” consultation on the issue, and alleged the bill was introduced this week despite the Law Society being assured it would not be.
The ACT Bar Association’s president, Steve Whybrow, pointed to a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in 2017, which he says recommended against specific offences.
“The ALRC recommended against the enactment of specific elder law offences, on the basis that existing criminal laws generally adequately covered conduct which constituted elder abuse,” he said.
“The creation of new offences was noted as unnecessary, and would risk duplicating existing offences. There has been no explanation from the ACT Government as to why it has chosen to disregard the unambiguous conclusions of the ALRC report.”
Mr Ramsay said the new laws would make the ACT the first jurisdiction in the country to create specific criminal offences, and said the introduction of the neglect offence brings the ACT in line with the other states and territories on this specific matter. The offences will be punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.