Victim Support in the ACT

Contributed by Victim Support ACT and current to March 2018.

The Rights of Victims of Crime

Key legislation and responsible agencies

Victim Support ACT is the Government’s legislated service for victims of crime, and operates from the ACT Human Rights Commission. Victim Support ACT delivers the Victims Services Scheme and the Financial Assistance Scheme. The Victims of Crime Commissioner is the agency head of Victim Support ACT and the decision-maker for the Financial Assistance Scheme.

The Victims of Crime Commissioner

The Victims of Crime Commissioner (VOCC) is an independent statutory appointment of the ACT Attorney-General. The position is established pursuant to section 7 of the Victims of Crime Act 1994. The statutory functions of the VOCC are set out in section 11 of that Act. The VOCC is also the Domestic Violence Project Coordinator and performs functions under the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986.

The VOCC’s responsibilities include:
  • Advocating for the interests of victims of crime;
  • Consulting on and promoting reforms to meet the needs or priorities of victims of crime;
  • Developing education and other programs to promote awareness of the interests of victims of crime;
  • Advising the ACT Attorney-General on matters in relation to victims of crime in the ACT;
  • Contributing to the Victims Advisory Board;
  • Assisting the Domestic Violence Prevention Council as advised; and
  • Encouraging and facilitating cooperation between agencies involved in the administration of justice in relation to victims of crime.
The VOCC is also responsible for monitoring compliance with the governing principles for the treatment of victims of crime; and ensuring that concerns and complaints about non-compliance with the principles are dealt with promptly and effectively.

The Governing Principles

The Victims of Crime Act 1994 (section 4) establishes Governing Principles for the treatment of victims of crime in the ACT. These Principles derive from the (non-binding) United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power 1985.

The Governing Principles do not constitute enforceable legal rights. Rather, they define how agencies involved in the administration of justice should, as far as practicable and appropriate, treat victims of crime.

The Governing Principles are:
  1. A victim should be dealt with at all times in a sympathetic, constructive and reassuring manner and with due regard to his or her personal situation, rights and dignity;
  2. A victim should be informed at reasonable intervals (generally not exceeding one month) of the progress of police investigations concerning the relevant offence, except where such disclosure might jeopardise the investigation, and, in that case, the victim should be informed accordingly;
  3. A victim should be informed of all the charges laid against the accused and of any modification of the charges;
  4. A victim should be informed of any decision concerning the accused to accept a plea of guilty to a lesser charge or a guilty plea in return for a recommendation of leniency in sentencing;
  5. A victim should be informed of any decision not to proceed with a charge against the accused;
  6. Where any property of the victim is held by the Crown (generally police) for the purposes of investigation or evidence - inconvenience to the victim should be minimised and the property returned promptly;
  7. A victim should be informed about the trial process and of the rights and responsibilities of witnesses;
  8. A victim should be protected from unnecessary contact with the accused and defence witnesses during the course of the trial;
  9. A victim’s residential address should be withheld unless court directs otherwise;
  10. A victim should be relieved from appearing at preliminary hearings or committal proceedings unless the court directs otherwise;
  11. A victim should be given an explanation of the outcome of criminal proceedings and of any sentence and its implications;
  12. A victim who is known to have expressed a concern about the need for protection from an offender should be informed of the offender’s impending release from custody.
Victims can make complaints directly to the agency responsible, or raise their concerns with the VOCC.

New Developments in Victims’ Rights

The Parliamentary Agreement for the 9th Legislative Assembly for the ACT outlines the Government’s commitment to implementing a Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime. It is anticipated that the Charter will be implemented in 2019.

Victims’ Rights under the Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) also has application. ACT Public Authorities have an obligation to consider human rights in their decision making in relation to victims of crime. The key human rights relevant to victims in the justice system are:
  • Recognition and equality before the Law (s 8)
  • Right to life (s 9)
  • Right to protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (s 10)
  • Protection of the Family (s 11)
  • Right to protection of children and young people (s 11(2))
  • Privacy and home (s 12)
  • Right to security of person (s 18)
  • Fair trial (s 21)
A practical guide for the justice sector on ‘Victim and Witness Rights under the ACT Human Rights Act 2004’ is available on the ACT Human Rights Commission Website.

Victim Impact Statements

Victim impact statements (VIS) are an opportunity for victims of crime to participate in the criminal justice process. Victims and certain other people who have been affected by an offence may make a victim impact statement either orally in the court, or by way of a written statement. A victim impact statement can be submitted to the court after an offender has been convicted (found guilty or pleaded guilty) before they have been sentenced. If the victim wants the statement to be read out in court then the court must allow it to be read out (including by someone other than the victim). Victim impact statements allow victims of crime the opportunity to express to the accused, and to the court, the ways in which the crime committed against them has affected them and their life.

Part 4.3 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005 outlines the provisions relating to victim impact statements (VIS). The court may consider the VIS and impact on the victim when sentencing the offender.

A form and supporting information for completing a VIS is available on Victim Support ACT’s website. Victim Support ACT can give help to people who want to prepare a victim impact statement. ACT Policing victim liaison officers and ACT Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Witness Assistant’s may also provide this help.

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