Increasing access to justice for older people through remote witnessing

12 Aug 2021

Over the last 13+ months we have seen and responded to rising legal need due to the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Increasing financial pressures on family members, including job losses, adult children returning to the family home, and relationship breakdowns, have also led to a rise in elder abuse.

Public health restrictions mean that people have limited access to community, particularly for older people – making it harder to report or access support to address abuse. The impact of elder abuse is devastating and has serious consequences on the health and financial wellbeing of older people.

To meet this growing legal need during COVID-19, some states across Australia trialled ‘remote witnessing’ to allow important legal documents such as wills, Powers of Attorney (POA) and statutory declarations to be witnessed and executed over audio-visual link (AVL).

Remote witnessing is an important step in ensuring that older people, particularly people who live in remote and rural settings, in lockdown or with accessibility needs, have access to legal services.

How remote witnessing can protect older people from elder abuse

The NSW Government is now considering making the option for remote witnessing of legal documents permanent. Informed by our extensive experience in witnessing POA, Enduring Guardianship Appointments (EGA) and Wills via AVL since April 2020, we strongly support this change provided that adequate safeguards are put in place.

Read our submission

Submission to the NSW Department of Communities & Justice remote witnessing consultation paper (June 2021)Download PDF (368 KB)

One key legal tool which can prevent and address elder abuse is through Enduring Powers of Attorney and Appointment of Enduring Guardian documents, which enable a person to nominate someone to make personal or financial decisions on their behalf. However, lockdowns created a barrier for our lawyers, who work on site at several hospitals and community health centres in NSW and Victoria through Health Justice Partnerships (HJPs), to assist clients who need these documents signed or witnessed.

Remote witnessing enabled Justice Connect to continue protecting older people such as Nina – whose story is below – from elder abuse during COVID-19.

Nina’s story

Nina is an elderly Italian woman who was experiencing elder abuse by the person she had appointed as her Attorney and Guardian. With the help of an interpreter, we assisted Nina to revoke these documents, and advised her to appoint someone she trusted and would do the right thing by her.

Thanks to the newly introduced remote witnessing legislation, we were able to assist Nina to execute the documents by witnessing the signatures via video conferencing. Nina was extremely relieved to know that she had the protections in place to ensure that she could no longer be abused.

How you can reach us

If you’re a health care worker in one of our Health Justice Partnerships in Victoria or New South Wales, our lawyers are available to help answer any questions you may have about supporting your patient. If you think one of your patients may be at risk of elder abuse, reach out to the lawyer located at your service.

Please note that only staff working within each Health Justice Partnership can refer patients to our lawyers.

If you personally require legal assistance, apply online using our help tool.

Read our full submission