Published: 20 September 2018
Author: Stringer Clark Stringer Clark
Payments to rise in landmark Victims of Crime review
A report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission into the current Victims of Crime Assistance Scheme has recommended sweeping changes to the law and how assistance is provided to victims.
The maximum lump sum of compensation will rise from $10,000 to $25,000 while time limits will be imposed on decisions.
The report was yesterday tabled in the Victorian Parliament.
Of the 100 recommendations made, the most significant is the repeal of the current law (Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996) and replacing the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (currently a division sitting at each Magistrates’ Court in Victoria), with an expanded division of the Victims of Crime Commissioner. The Victims of Crime Commissioner and its department is proposed to be the primary decision maker in respect of victims of crime compensation.
Informal restorative justice process, with legal representation
This proposal would see victims of crime Hearings replaced with ‘conferences’, which would be less formal than hearings and be more victim-focused. It is important to note that Applicants would still be entitled to be legally represented if they wished. Decision makers or those making decisions on behalf of the Commissioner will have to have regard to the Victims Charter.
This is a welcome addition as many of our clients tell us the Victims of Crime process feels adversarial rather than restorative.
Criminal offences that qualify a victim for assistance are also proposed to be expanded.
Of particular note is the inclusion of home invasion as a relevant offence. Presently, many persons who have their home burgled but are not present or do not witness the burglary are ‘locked out’ of receiving assistance, despite the significant distress and trauma caused by the home invasion.
The report also recommends the removal of the requirement for victims to “prove” they were injured, when they were the victim of a sexual assault, domestic violence, or under the age of 18 at the time. This is also a welcome change as many victims in those circumstances are unable to report their injuries to medical professions at the time of the offending, due to their age or fear of the offender finding out and causing them further injury.
Payments up from $10,000 to $25,000
The “special financial assistance” lump sum (currently capped at $10,000) is proposed to be replaced with a “recovery payment” of up to $25,000. The scheme decision maker would be able to control how some or all of the payment is spent by the Applicant. While the increase is very overdue, taking away the power Applicant’s have to decide how best to aid in their recovery is likely to add another level of red tape and frustration for victims, as it appears they will have to justify to the decision maker what they choose to spend some or all of their compensation on.
Time limits for making an application are proposed to increase from 2 years to 3 years, and 10 years if the criminal act is related to domestic violence. Applicants who were under 18 when the offending occurred would have 3 years from the date they turned 18, or in the cases of historical child sexual abuse, there would be no time limit. We welcome this change as it is common knowledge that those who suffered abuse as a child often struggle for many years before they are able to report the crimes.
Time limits on decisions
Currently, there is no time limit under which the Victims of Crime Tribunal must make a decision. Sadly, this often means decisions can take months, and in some cases years, to be made. The report recommends imposing time limits on decision makers, as well as requiring written reasons for decisions. This is a sensible and long overdue change.
Appeals to stay
An Applicant who is not satisfied with a decision would have the right to appeal to a more senior decision maker. The right to appeal a decision to VCAT is also proposed to be maintained. It is extremely important that appeal rights are not stripped, as unfortunately decisions are made from time to time that are unjust, or even contrary to the legislation.
While not recommending a “levy” be placed on offenders, to be paid into a fund to assist Victims of Crime, the report recommends the government give further consideration to requiring convicted offenders to pay a levy into a fund.
Overall, the recommendations are sensible and aimed at expanding the circumstances in which assistance will be available, and making accessing compensation for victims of crime easier, more efficient, and less adversarial. It is important that Victims be allowed the right to be legally represented, and to have appeal rights should they not agree with a decision made in their Application. Many of the changes are in line with recommendations Ryan Carlisle Thomas made in its submission to the Commission.
While it remains to be seen which recommendations will be implemented by the Victorian Government, an expansion and relaxing of the often burdensome requirements of the scheme is a welcome change.