Christchurch tragedy, and Elder Abuse

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22 March 2019

On behalf of the Canberra legal community, I extend sincere sympathy to our friends and neighbours in Christchurch NZ for their tragic and terrible loss. Having barely survived an earthquake, it is just too cruel for them to now have to suffer this recent horror.
If you’ve been affected by this trauma, whether personally or simply by being exposed to the news cycle, please read this article at The Conversation, ‘How to take care of your mental health after the Christchurch attacks’.
Turning to more prosaic matters, last Thursday and Friday I attended the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Canberra. The two day event, organised by the Law Council of Australia, presented sessions covering diverse issues including public interest litigation, self-represented litigants, bail and incarceration, homelessness, family law, and victims of crime.
I had the pleasure of chairing the elder abuse session. I reminded the audience that the Law Society is active in this area, and that through our Elder Law & Succession Law Committee, we are seeking changes to our laws on Enduring Powers of Attorney. Such matters as the qualification of the witness to the donor’s signature, witnessing the donee’s acceptance, proper advice to the donor and the donees, advising donees on their responsibilities, and restricting some persons from being appointed, are all issues that need legislative intervention.
The Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO, stated that, in her view, lawyers are often found to be wanting in the quality of their advice to the parties entering into an enduring power of attorney. Coming from someone as eminent as Dr Patterson, I take this as a warning sign that we practitioners need to take very seriously the instructions we accept, and the advice we give the parties. The legislative changes sought by our Committee will assist in this regard, and the ACT Attorney General, Gordon Ramsay MLA, has assured the Society that his office will engage with us to include necessary measures in future legislation.
Today and Saturday, I am attending Law Council meetings in Sydney. It’s a busy life!
Chris Donohue President, ACT Law Society