Strategy sought to curb elderly abuse

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 12:00am

Judges and lawyers should be trained to help prevent the elderly and mentally ill from having money siphoned from their bank accounts, according to draft guidelines issued by the Guardianship Board yesterday.

The body also recommended that it should be empowered to order banks to freeze accounts which had been or were about to be misused, with the use of a chop signature or a letter of delegation.

The recommendations follow a doubling in 2001 from the previous year in the number of elderly people seeking help from the Guardianship Board after having their finances abused, usually by family members.

The board also recommended that criminal law be amended to meet adequately the types of financial exploitation, such as abuse of chop signatures.

The Guardianship Board, set up in 1999, has the power to appoint guardians to protect the rights and interests of mentally incapacitated adults unable to make decisions about their personal, medical or financial affairs.

In its summary of recommendations, the board states: 'If the Guardianship Board was given greater financial power and increased powers to tackle financial abuse, relatives and the taxpayer would save considerably on legal fees, as there would be no need to apply to the Court of First Instance under Part II of the Mental Health Ordinance.'

However, Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun, who is vice-chairman of the Legco security panel, said it would be 'dangerous' if the board had the power to freeze bank accounts.

'Freezing a bank's asset transfer is a serious matter. People will only be convinced if it is ordered by the court,' Mr To said.

He welcomed more training for judges and lawyers to identify financial abuse of incapacitated elders, saying: 'These professionals always have chances to deal with information about their clients' assets under different circumstances, more training can enable them to help the needy.'

Echoing his views, legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of The Frontier, said there was a danger of abuse of power if the board could freeze bank accounts on its own.

'A better way would be for the board to act on behalf of the victims to apply for an injunction from the court,' Ms Ho said, adding that a court ruling would be more credible and trustworthy.

But Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, supported the Guardianship Boards's recommendation, saying that incapacitated elderly should be better protected.

'At present, as each case has to go through the court, sometimes we would feel helpless when faced with their plight,' Mr Ho said.