In February 2019, the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee began taking evidence on the nature, extent and prosecution of the abuse of older people.
Hourglass Scotland (at the time known as: AEA Scotland) has been pushing for the prosecution of the abuse of older people to be treated more seriously for some time, and we therefore welcome this development. Although the Scottish Government have recently consulted on proposals for extending 'hate crime' to include age-related hostility, we have always maintained that this type of crime only accounts for a fraction of the abuse experienced by older people. We believe the real reason why older people are targeted is due to their perceived vulnerability, not hatred towards them because of their age.
Similarly, while we welcome the new Domestic Abuse law (which comes into force in April this year), we were disappointed that the definition of a perpetrator of 'domestic abuse' remained a narrow one: only partners or ex-partners. We questioned why this didn't include children or other family members. After all, being abused by your grown-up son can be just as harmful as being abused by your husband, for example.
We therefore welcome developments to give this area serious consideration, and are hopeful that the time is right to finally put in place a real deterrent to the scourge of elder abuse.
What are the Justice Committee considering?
The Committee gathered both written and oral evidence from a range of organisations, and considered the following areas:
- the merits of introducing a new specific offence of 'elder abuse' (similar to the new 'domestic abuse' offence)
- the merits of introducing a new statutory aggravation applying to situations where a more general offence involves the abuse of older people
- the ability and willingness of victims to be able to report the abuse of older people
- any specialist skills which may be required within the police and prosecution system to adequately address offences involving the abuse of older people
- whether Scotland is fully meeting its international human rights commitments to older people in terms of not having a statutory offence on the abuse of older people
The Committee took evidence from:
- Hourglass Scotland (formerly known as: Action on Elder Abuse Scotland)
- Age Scotland
- the Care Inspectorate
- Dr Hannah Bows (Durham University)
- Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
- Law Society of Scotland
- Police Scotland
- Social Work Scotland
- Paul Greenwood (former Deputy District Attorney of San Diego County)
What are Hourglass Scotland calling for?
You might be thinking that we already have criminal offences for crimes such as theft or assault, but they fail to adequately recognise the seriousness and unique dynamics of the harm and abuse of older people. They also fail to recognise the impact on the older person. We need a criminal justice system which recognises that victims are often specifically targeted as they are seen as more vulnerable or easy targets, and this needs to be reflected in prosecutions.
We are calling for:
- Hostility towards an older person on the basis of age to become a hate crime. This would be the same as hate crime towards people on the basis of disability, race, religion or sexual orientation.
- A new statutory aggravation* in recognition of the fact that existing criminal charges are not enough. This would allow judges (during sentencing decisions) to take account of circumstances where older people are deliberately targeted because they are seen to be vulnerable.
- A new specific criminal offence of 'elder abuse' for the most serious cases. The Scottish Government has recently introduced a new specific offence of 'domestic abuse' and we see no reason why the same protection should not be offered to older people.
* An aggravation takes into account any circumstances which make the crime more serious, e.g. deliberately targeting someone who is vulnerable would result in a tougher prosecution. So robbing an older man who is frail and blind would result in a heftier prosecution compared to robbing a younger man with no health issues.