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  • Recent inquiries highlight injustices and difficulties in combating elder abuse.
  • Application of the forfeiture rule in succession law results in the person who causes the death of another to forfeit their share in the deceased person’s estate.
  • It has been proposed that extension of the forfeiture rule to cases of abuse against the vulnerable and elderly, as has been done in other jurisdictions, may act as a deterrent to abusive behaviour.

‘Never before in this court –and I have listened to many bad cases – have I had to sit and listen to anything nearly approaching your case … If I could find a place to send you where you would suffer the same privations as this old lady I would send you to it, and it would be only a fitting punishment. In these enlightened times gaol is far too comfortable and decent a place for a person like you.’ These are the words of magistrate, Henry Moseley, as reported in The Mirror (Perth WA), 23 March 1935, 16, when sentencing a landlord in a case of multiple forms of abuse. An elderly pensioner was exploited by her landlord who was accused of misappropriating her pension, as well as subjecting her to cruel verbal abuse, withholding food, housing her in unhealthy and filthy accommodation and forcing her to perform hard menial tasks.

While this incident happened more than 80 years ago, recent state parliamentary inquiries (NSW, South Australia and Western Australia), together with the 2016 Australian Law Reform Commission (‘ALRC’) inquiry, have brought into the public domain the continuing problem of abuse against the vulnerable and aged in society.

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