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Victims of crime and family violence

Victims of crime and family violence

By Victorian Law Reform Commission

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The VLRC is reviewing how family violence victims engage with the victims of crime assistance scheme.

The recent Royal Commission into Family Violence recognised that Victoria's victims of crime assistance scheme has a role in helping family violence victims rebuild their lives and recover.

However, the Royal Commission raised concerns about how family violence victims engage with the scheme. In particular, victims of family violence who have suffered emotional or economic abuse may face difficulties accessing the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) if they are not a victim of a "criminal act" as defined under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (the Act).

The Royal Commission heard that even where victims of family violence are eligible for assistance, the law does not adequately recognise the cumulative harm caused by protracted family violence. It also heard that the requirement for VOCAT to notify people with a legitimate interest in the matter may require VOCAT to contact perpetrators of family violence and invite them to participate in proceedings. This would have the effect of re-traumatising family violence victims. Other concerns include:

  • the requirement to strike out applications where more than two years have elapsed since the relevant act of violence
  • a general lack of awareness of the scheme
  • delays in applications being finalised, causing distress for those experiencing financial insecurity.

The Royal Commission recommended that the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) consider these matters further.

The Victorian Attorney-General has asked the VLRC to review and report by 31 January 2018 on the provision of state-funded financial assistance to victims of family violence under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996. In conducting this review the VLRC has been asked to consider the following matters:

  • the eligibility test, and whether this should be expanded to include victims of family violence where a pattern of non-criminal behaviour results in physical or psychological injury
  • within the total financial assistance currently available, the categories and quantum of awards, taking into account the cumulative impact of family violence behaviour on victims
  • the requirement to notify a perpetrator, especially where the matter has not been reported to police, or no charges have been laid, or the prosecution is discontinued or the person is acquitted
  • the matters giving rise to refusal of an application except in special circumstances
  • procedural matters to expedite the making of an award.

To ensure its recommendations are robust and draw on the views of the community, the VLRC will be publishing a consultation paper in June. Written submissions are invited by the end of July.

The consultation paper seeks the views of the community on the operation of the Act as it applies to victims of family violence, consistent with the Act's objectives, namely to:

  • assist victims of crime to recover by paying financial assistance for expenses incurred or likely to be incurred as a direct result of the crime
  • pay certain victims of crime financial assistance (including special financial assistance) as an expression by the state of the community's sympathy and condolence for, and recognition of, the significant adverse effects experienced or suffered by them as victims of crime
  • allow victims of crime to have recourse to financial assistance where compensation for the injury cannot be obtained from the offender or other sources.

The review will not re-examine broader matters relating to the family violence service system. Nor will it re-examine broader matters regarding victims of crime or victims of crime assistance schemes. This review will not review the total financial assistance currently available under the Act.

Instead, the review will focus on the changes required to be made to the Act to ensure that the unique dynamics and characteristics of family violence are appropriately recognised and accommodated.

During July and August the VLRC will hold consultations with key stakeholders including family violence support agencies, the judiciary, legal practitioners and academics. The VLRC is interested in the views of the legal profession, particularly those with experience in the operation of the Act for victims of family violence.

You can view the consultation paper and make a submission at www.lawreform.vic.gov.au from 16 June 2017.

Snapshot

  • The VLRC is considering the eligibility of family violence victims where no crime is involved, and other matters.
  • A consultation paper will be published this month.
  • Submissions are invited by the end of July.

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