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Improving victim support

Improving victim support

By VLRC

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The VLRC’s review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 has been extended.

Snapshot

  • The VLRC’s review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 has been extended to cover all victims.
  • A consultation paper has been published.
  • Submissions are invited by 31 October.

The Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) provide one of the key mechanisms by which victims of crime are able to access financial assistance to help them with their recovery. The Act’s objectives are to assist victims of crime by paying for expenses incurred as a result of the crime (such as medical bills, counselling, and loss of earnings), and as a symbolic expression by the state of the community’s sympathy and condolence.

The VLRC began a review in early 2017, focusing on how effectively the Act and VOCAT assist victims of family violence, and in June 2017 the VLRC released a consultation paper “Family Violence and the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996”.

On 7 July 2017, the scope of the review was extended, with the VLRC receiving supplementary terms of reference from the Attorney-General. These supplementary terms of reference ask the VLRC to consider the operation and effectiveness of the Act for all victims of crime, not solely victims of family violence. The VLRC has been asked to make recommendations by 27 July 2018, in a single report incorporating both the original and the supplementary terms of reference.

Accordingly, the VLRC has published a supplementary consultation paper (available at lawreform.vic.gov.au) addressing a number of key issues. These include:

  • eligibility
  • the categories and quantum of assistance
  • the timeliness of assistance, including whether any processes, procedures or requirements cause unnecessary delay
  • whether other models would more effectively deliver assistance to victims.

Eligibility

People applying for assistance under the Act must demonstrate that they are the primary, secondary or related victim of an act of violence. The act of violence must have directly resulted in injury, death, or a significant adverse effect.

These criteria can create obstacles for some people. In particular, the definitions in the Act of victim, act of violence and injury can make it difficult to successfully claim assistance. The VLRC is considering whether there is scope for reform in regards to these definitions.

Categories and quantum of awards

The categories and quantum of awards available to victims of crime depend on the category under which an applicant applies for assistance. Primary, secondary and related victims can make claims for “reasonable assistance” with expenses such as counselling, medical bills, and some other expenses. In addition, primary victims can be awarded a lump sum made as a symbolic expression of the community’s sympathy and condolence, based on the severity of the act of violence.

The VLRC is considering whether the maximum amounts of financial assistance available under the Act are adequate to meet the needs of victims. Another question is whether the current categories of award are appropriate, and whether it is appropriate for the Act to state that expenses must be reasonable.

Timeliness of assistance

The Act requires VOCAT to determine applications for assistance “expeditiously”. However, evidentiary requirements and an increase in the complexity and number of applications to VOCAT mean there are often delays in finalising applications. The VLRC is considering how to improve the timeliness of awards of assistance under the Act. Options include amending documentary evidence requirements, as well as broader systemic reforms.

Would other models deliver assistance more effectively?

Victoria’s state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime is a judicial model. VOCAT is located in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and the tribunal members are magistrates. The VLRC is reviewing whether other models would more effectively deliver financial assistance to victims of crime – in particular, whether an administrative model, as in most other Australian jurisdictions, or a hybrid administrative and judicial system, would better achieve just and timely outcomes for victims and be efficient and sustainable for the state. The VLRC is also considering what model would be best to minimise trauma for victims and maximise the therapeutic effect of the process.

The VLRC would like to hear from legal professionals with experience of these and other matters related to the Act and VOCAT. Consultations are taking place now and submissions on the first and the supplementary consultation paper are open until 31 October 2017. To download the consultation paper and make an online submission, please visit www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

 

This column is contributed by the VLRC. For further information ph 8608 7800 or see www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.


Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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