Victims of crime will have a stronger voice in the criminal justice system following reforms announced by Attorney-General Robert Clark today.
The Victorian Coalition Government has today introduced legislation to make clear that prosecutors should consult with victims ahead of sentence indications, and to strengthen laws for ordering offenders to pay compensation to their victims.
The Coalition Government is also establishing a high-level consultative committee on victims' issues, and introducing a grants scheme to assist victim self-help groups.
"For too long, victims of crime in Victoria have not been given sufficient say in the criminal justice system or about the support services available to help victims," Mr Clark said.
"From arrest through to sentencing, the focus has been on offenders, meaning the needs and views of victims have too easily been overlooked. These reforms will give a stronger voice to victims.
"The Sentencing Act currently allows victims to make a victim impact statement before an offender is sentenced after a trial or after pleading guilty.
"However, the law is silent about what happens when an accused person asks a court to give a sentence indication prior to a trial if they are considering whether or not to plead guilty.
"It's time the law made clear that victims should be consulted ahead of a sentence indication being given, so the court can know and understand the effect the crime has had on the victim," Mr Clark said.
Under the reforms, the law will make explicit that a court can refuse to give a sentence indication if the court does not have sufficient information about the impact of the offence on the victim. This in turn will make clear that prosecutors are expected to have consulted with victims and be able to tell the court about the effects the crime has had.
The Coalition Government will also introduce changes to the law for ordering offenders to pay compensation to victims for crimes involving loss or damage to property.
Under the changes, courts will have the power to order compensation in cases where there is sufficient evidence, without the victim having to make a formal application. The changes will also make it easier to provide evidence of the property damage or loss to the court through documents such as receipts, valuations or quotes, without requiring the formal giving of evidence. This will make it easier and simpler for compensation orders to be made.
"For too long, compensating victims for the loss or damage they have suffered has been an afterthought in criminal trials. These reforms send the clear message that offenders should be required to pay for the losses they have caused," Mr Clark said.
"These changes mean that if a vandal has smashed a letterbox, keyed a car door or graffitied a shopfront, they should expect to have a compensation order made against them, in addition to whatever sentence they receive.
"These reforms are the first stage of delivering on the Coalition's commitment to make compensation orders for victims a more automatic part of sentencing for all offences.
"The Coalition Government is also establishing a Victims of Crime Consultative Committee, which will be a permanent reference group for crime victims to have input into policy and contribute to improving support services for victims," Mr Clark said.
Applications will be sought for crime victim representatives to serve on the committee, which will also include representatives from the judiciary, Victoria Police, the Office of Public Prosecutions, courts, the Adult Parole Board, the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal and victim service agencies.
"Victims of crime have first-hand experiences and insights that can help make the justice system work better both for victims and for the community as a whole," Mr Clark said.
"Bringing together crime victim representatives and representatives of the various bodies involved in the criminal justice system and victim support will help build discussion and understanding. I look forward to working with the committee to help ensure the justice system treats victims fairly and respectfully and that victims do not get left behind
The Coalition Government has also established a Victims' Groups Small Grants Scheme, which will enable victims' groups to apply for a share of $50,000 in grants to help meet the costs associated with their work in helping victims and improving victims' participation in the justice system.
"Victims groups provide mutual help, support and advice to victims in their times of need and put forward proposals for improvements to the justice system based on the first-hand experiences of their members. They deserve a helping hand in the work they do," Mr Clark said.
More information about the consultative committee and the victims groups grants scheme is available on the Victims of Crime website at www.justice.vic.gov.au/victimsofcrime