Criminal Law

By Claire Osborne

03.04.19

Horrifying treatment of vulnerable people in care revealed by Royal Commission

A beating with a shoe, maggots found in a head wound and over 3000 reportable assaults in Aged Care residential facilities. A disability pensioner beaten in his front yard and other cases of assault, harassment and improper behaviour under the care of disability service providers.

This week’s Commonwealth Budget included funding for a Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. This comes after several months of pressure from disability advocates to ensure their concerns received similar attention to those of people using aged care services, now being scrutinised via the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

In his response to the announcement of the Royal Commission, Australian Greens Disability Rights spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John, said, “A clear pathway forward for survivors of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect must be included in any Royal Commission including prosecution, investigation and most importantly, redress.”

The draft terms of reference exclude consideration of any matters that are currently being dealt with by a criminal or civil proceeding, but direct the Royal Commission to establish mechanisms to facilitate the timely communication of information which it receives, including the furnishing of evidence, for example, for the purpose of enabling the timely investigation and prosecution of offences.

It also requires the Royal Commission to ensure that evidence that it may receive is dealt with in a way that does not prejudice current or future criminal or civil proceedings; and to establish appropriate arrangements so that the testimony of witnesses can be taken into account in a way that avoids unnecessary duplication and improves efficiency.

In an article in The Conversation[1], educator David Roy noted that the families of disabled people are unlikely to complain about the services they rely on for everyday life, in case of retribution or the removal of these services, and that this means it’s very likely many incidents of abuse go unreported.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights President Kerry Weste notes “Children with disabilities are three times more likely to experience abuse than children without disability. A Senate report has made it clear that there are ongoing systemic failures by government and service providers to notify families and report matters of violence and abuse to police.”[2]

Over the past few months the alleged actions of carers have been in the spotlight in Australia, and internationally. Whether through criminal charges, or potential personal injury claims, the families or guardians of disabled and elderly persons are seeking justice for the alleged wrong doings. The question is whether or not the recommendations likely to come from the Royal Commission will be adequately implemented, and how the Royal Commission may affect current legislation regarding relevant criminal charges.

[1] https://theconversation.com/why-schools-desperately-need-a-royal-commission-into-the-abuse-of-disabled-people-112058

[2] https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/politics/24114-royal-commission-into-disability-care-sector-still-needed