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Protecting the Vulnerable

What is abuse?

People who are unable to make decisions for themselves because they lack mental capacity are a vulnerable group in society. They may not even be aware that they are being ill-treated. Under the Mental Capacity Act, ill-treatment and wilful neglect of persons without mental capacity is a criminal offence.

Examples of abuse

Under the Mental Capacity Act, ill-treatment of a person is defined as:

  • Physical abuse of the person,
  • Sexual abuse of the person,
  • Any wilful or unreasonable act by the offender, or which the offender causes the person to do, that endangers or is likely to endanger the person’s safety, or is likely to cause the person any:
    • unnecessary physical pain, suffering or injury,
    • emotional injury, or
    • injury to health or development,
  • Wilful or unreasonable neglect, abandonment or exposure of the person with the intent to abandon the person, or in circumstances that are likely to endanger the person's safety, or to cause the person any:
    • unnecessary physical pain, suffering or injury,
    • emotional injury, or
    • injury to health or development
  • Neglect occurs when the offender fails to provide adequate supplies of any of the following:
    • food,
    • clothing,
    • medical aid,
    • lodging,
    • care, or
    • other necessities of life


Trina's only living relative is her aunt, Sherlin. Trina's parents passed away when she was 7 years old and Sherlin raised her. Sherlin suffered a stroke that left her with permanent brain damage and partial paralysis. Sherlin recently moved into Trina’s home and Trina has employed Sara to care for Sherlin.

Before Sherlin moved into her home, Trina lived the high life, regularly holding parties at home. This is no longer possible. Trina’s disposable income is substantially reduced because of the cost of Sherlin’s medication, medical and hospitalisation bills and Sara’s wages. At first, Trina did not mind having Sherlin in her home but she soon feels bitter. Trina instructs Sara to stop Sherlin’s medication to save costs. She eventually terminates Sara's employment to further reduce her expenses, leaving Sherlin to fend for herself in the daytime while she is at work. Sherlin develops bedsores and dehydration. Trina admits Sherlin to hospital when Sherlin becomes critically ill. The doctor finds that Sherlin is malnourished and her condition has deteriorated as a result of the deprivation of medication.

Trina may be charged with ill-treatment of Sherlin under section 42 of the Mental Capacity Act.

What should you do if you think someone is being abused?

Anyone who knows, suspects or believes that a person who lacks capacity is not properly looked after, or needs care, or protection, may report this to the Public Guardian and the appropriate bodies.

If there is good reason to suspect that a crime has been committed against the person, the report should be made to the police.

Contact list of places you can approach to get help

Types of AbuseWho to Contact for Help
1. Physical
  • Police
  • Family Service Centre
  • OPG
2. Sexual
  • Police
  • OPG
3. Financial
  • Police
  • Family Service Centre
  • Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents
  • OPG (where it involves a donee or deputy)
4. Psychological
  • Police
  • Family Service Centre
  • OPG
5. Neglect and acts of omission
  • Police
  • OPG

Whistle-blower protection

To encourage individuals to report to the Public Guardian on suspected ill-treatment, the Mental Capacity Act provides whistle-blower protection. The whistle-blower’s identity may not be disclosed in court proceedings. No one can be forced to disclose the identity of whistle-blowers in court proceedings.

For health care workers who act in good faith in making notifications to the Public Guardian, the Act gives protection and he would not incur any civil liability for making such notifications.

The Board of Visitors

The roles of the Board of Visitors are to:

  • visit persons who lack capacity, donees or deputies as may be requested by the Public Guardian or the Court, and
  • check on the well-being of the person who lacks capacity.