The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales is undertaking an extensive research project that aims to improve access to justice for older people in Wales.
Working with a research team from Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Age, Gender and Social Justice, the Commissioner is examining the ways that decision-making by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) impacts upon investigations relating to safeguarding and subsequent access to justice for older people.
The four police forces in Wales and the CPS have welcomed the research and are supporting the Commissioner by providing the research team with unprecedented access to case files, records and other documentation.
The research team will review data, decision-making processes and outcomes relating to 400 cases where abuse, neglect or ill-treatment is alleged to have taken place in hospital or care home settings, to identify ways that safeguarding investigations and training could be enhanced and access to justice for older people could be improved.
Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said: “Data shows that prosecution and conviction rates for crimes against older people are disproportionately low when compared with the population as a whole, particularly in cases relating to safeguarding, abuse and neglect in hospitals and care homes.
“It is essential that older people who are the victims of crime are fully supported by our criminal justice system and this research offers an important opportunity to identify they ways in which safeguarding investigations and access to justice could be improved throughout Wales.
Sarah Wydall, from the University’s department of Law and Criminology, who is leading the research with Prof. John Williams and Research Fellow Ann Sherlock, said: “We need to identify the challenges and barriers that may have an impact on the low level of reported cases that resulted in a prosecution.
“This is something that the Older People’s Commissioner has expressed concern about in the past, and we are delighted that her funding of this project will enable us to address the significant gap in existing knowledge.
“We hope our research findings will help to identify ways in which adult safeguarding and criminal investigations could be enhanced.”
Chief Constable of South Wales Police, Matt Jukes, said: “Nobody should grow old in fear of elder abuse. Policing has shifted its focus in recent years towards a spotlight on this and other areas of vulnerability. New multi-agency safeguarding teams mean that we are seeing more cases than ever where a range of organisations need to work together to ensure an older person is kept safe and that investigations and potentially prosecutions are effective.
“We welcome the opportunity to look even more closely at how decisions are made in these complex situations.”
The research will be undertaken over the next 15 months, with a report setting out the Commissioner’s findings due for publication in March 2020.