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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Legal publications give elderly, disabled better access to justice

Three new publications – a legal diary for elderly people, and guidelines and a toolkit to support people with disabilities – will provide better access to justice for both older Canberrans and people with disability in the ACT.

ACT Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury, Minister for Disability, Emma Davidson, and Legal Aid ACT’s CEO Dr John Boersig launched the publications in Civic on Tuesday 1 December. Mr Rattenbury said the publications supported the Government’s aim of being a truly inclusive city.

The 2021 Older Persons ACT Legal Service (OPALS) Diary provides information about legal issues for elderly Canberrans, including the rights of residents in retirement villages, tenancy rights, estate planning, scam awareness, and practical measures for grandparents, such as school holiday dates.

The Legal Capacity Guidelines will help legal practitioners to assess whether elderly or disabled people can make decisions for themselves. The accompanying Toolkit is a practical resource for family and carers of people who may need support to make decisions.

Dr Boersig said: “These new resources reflect our commitment to people understanding their rights and protecting the interests and dignity of those who require support to make decisions.”

Ms Davidson believes the Capacity Guidelines and Toolkit will help the legal profession meet and understand the needs of clients and service users with a disability.

“I am delighted Legal Aid ACT have delivered such high-quality resources to support better access to justice for both older Canberrans and people with a disability in the ACT,” she said.  

The Guidelines were commissioned by the Disability Justice Strategy 2019–29.

“The resources advance the aims of the Disability Justice Strategy to achieve equity and inclusion for people with disability in the justice system,” Ms Davidson said.

Council on the Ageing ACT and the ACT Law Society have both welcomed the publications.

Jenny Mobbs, Council on the Ageing ACT’s CEO, said: “Navigating the legal system can be a daunting experience, but the Diary … will provide older members of our community with helpful advice they can use as a starting point. … Alongside the Capacity Guidelines and Toolkit, [it] will help vulnerable people engage more effectively with legal issues facing them.”

Elizabeth Carroll, president of the Law Society, said: “The ACT Disability Justice Strategy recognises that people with disability face a greater need for legal support than many other people in our society.

“They face a range of barriers that make them more likely to engage with the justice system.

“In light of this, it is critical that lawyers have access to the knowledge, skills, and resources to help their clients – to ensure that their clients are supported through the legal process as best as possible.

“Assessing client capacity is always a complex issue, and this toolkit will serve as an essential resource to help members of our profession understand the needs of clients with disability.

“The toolkit will equip lawyers with information and practical resources to help ensure that people with disability are empowered to engage in legal processes in a way that supports their inherent human rights and dignity.”

The Legal Capacity Guidelines and Toolkit are available on the Legal Aid ACT website and the Disability Justice Strategy website.

Hard copies of the 2021 OPALS Diary and the Legal Capacity Guidelines and Toolkit are available through Legal Aid.

Dr John Boersig (CEO of Legal Aid ACT), Emma Davidson (ACT Minister for Disability), Heidi Yates (co-chair of the Disability Justice Reference Group), Elizabeth Carroll (President of ACT Law Society), Elizabeth Samra (member of MACA and solicitor), and Shane Rattenbury (ACT Attorney-General). Photos supplied.

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