SA Government Introduces Bill For Changes to Victims of Crime Compensation Legislation

Monday 29 April 2019 @ 11.37 a.m. | Crime | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure

On 4 April 2019, the Victims of Crime (Offender Service and Joinder) Amendment Bill 2019 (the Bill) was introduced into the South Australian Legislative Assembly by the Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman (the Attorney-General). The stated intent of the legislation is "making it easier to access compensation".

Criminal Injuries Compensation in General

When introducing the Bill in her second reading speech, the Attorney-General gave an overview of the current legislation.  In South Australia, victims of crime compensation are governed by the Victims of Crime Act 2001 (the Act) which provides compensation for the pain and suffering victims of crime have endured, as well as compensating them for economic loss incurred as a result of the crime. The Attorney-General pointed out that the victims of crime compensation scheme is a compensation scheme of last resort, which means that compensation from other sources is intended to be sought first. Victims of crime compensation is not intended to act like civil damages and restore a victim to the position they were in prior to the crime. Instead it is meant to provide an acknowledgement from the state to the victim of their loss - thus it is more of a redress scheme than a compensation scheme.

About the Changes

The stated purpose of the changes proposed by the Bill are to ". . . make it easier and less stressful for victims to access compensation". The amendments are intended to bring South Australia into line with other states by removing the requirement for victims to have any further contact with the offender in their case. Under the current Act, claimants must serve a copy of their application for compensation for pain and suffering and economic loss, on the offender and the applications are required to contain information that is private and sensitive, such as medical reports. In a media release, the Attorney-General has said that both the legal representatives of victims and the Crown Solicitor’s Office had raised their concerns that the requirement risked renewed violence against victims, or risked bringing back stressful memories for them:

“For many victims, such an application can be stressful and traumatic, particularly for domestic violence victims and victims of sexual offending . . . Quite simply, it is unacceptable that seeking compensation may expose a victim of crime to the risk of reliving their trauma or, even worse, exposing them to further violence as a result of their contact with the offender. . . . This is why we have sought to address this and ensure the victim does not need to have any further contact with the offender.”

The amendments will mean that offenders no longer need to be served with a copy of the compensation application and instead, the offender will now only be contacted by the Crown Solicitor’s Office when the compensation application has concluded and the State initiates recovery proceedings against the offender. This, according to the Attorney-General:

“. . . ensures that all communications with the offender occur directly with the Crown Solicitor’s Office, once compensation has been finalised, . . . The victim will have no need to make any kind of contact with the offender, and can hopefully get through this process with less stress and trauma.”

As a result of the amendments, the Crown Solicitor’s Office will also be able to develop a simpler notification for the offender which does not disclose sensitive information thus still allowing the offender to make submissions about the amount to be recovered, while being much safer for the victim. According to the Attorney-General:

Specific Amendments

The Bill in Part 2 proposes two amendments to the Act, the first being the proposed amendment of section 18 of the Act which deals with the application for compensation (clause 4 of the Bill). This clause deletes the requirement for an application to the Crown for statutory compensation to be served on the offender. The second amendment is the proposed amendment of section 19 which deals with the joinder of offender as a party to court proceedings. This clause amends section 19 of the Act to permit the Court, on application by a claimant in respect of an application to the Court for statutory compensation, to exempt the claimant from the obligation to serve a copy of the application on the offender. If such an exemption is granted, the offender is not a party to the proceedings before the Court. Currently the Court has this discretion only where the whereabouts of the offender are not known and cannot be readily ascertained.

According to the Attorney-General the Bill “makes only a small change to the legislation, but it will have an outsized positive impact for victims negotiating the victims of crime compensation system in this State,”

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Victims of Crime (Offender Service and Joinder) Amendment Bill 2019 (75 of 2019) [SA] and explanatory materials and speeches as reported in TimeBase's LawOne Service.

Media Release: Marshall Government makes changes to help victims of crime (Vickie Chapman, SA Attorney-General, 4 April 2019]

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