ACT Bill To Introduce Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime

Thursday 9 July 2020 @ 11.11 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Victims Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (ACT) (the “Bill”) was introduced to the ACT’s Legislative Assembly on 2 July 2020 by the Minister for Justice, Mr Shane Rattenbury MLA . The Bill proposes extensive amendments to the Human Rights Commission Act 2005 and the Victims of Crime Act 1994. The Bill is currently before the Assembly.


As indicated in the Bill’s Explanatory Statement (“ES”), the object of the Bill is to provide:

“… victims of crime with rights that seek to ensure victims are treated appropriately in the justice process and are provided with information and opportunities to participate wherever possible, recognising that they are central to the justice process”.

The Bill introduces an accountability framework in the Victims of Crime Act 1994 (the “VOC Act”) and the Human Rights Commission Act 2005 (the “HRC Act”), that will give victims access to processes for making justice agency complaints and raising “victim rights concerns where a victim[s] right in the Charter has not been upheld by an obligated agency”.

Proposed Outcome of the Amendments

The VOC Act is amended to replace the “governing principles for the treatment of victims of crime in the administration of justice” contained in the VOC Act, with the Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime (the “Charter”).

According to the EM, victim rights under the VOC Act provide detailed guidance to victims and agencies about victim entitlements, but currently, existing provisions and entitlements for victims can be inconsistently applied and at times challenging for victims to access.

It has been reported that many victims experience difficulty navigating the justice system due to a lack of information and not being included in criminal justice processes and can “lead to re-traumatisation, putting pressure on the victim support and health systems, and can deter people from reporting crimes and cooperating with prosecutions”.

In the Minister’s speech, he referred to some of the changes:

“The objects of the Victims of Crime Act have been amended to reflect cultural changes in how victims are viewed in the justice process. They now refer to the central role of victims in achieving justice; victims are referred to as ‘people adversely affected by crime’, to recognise that the term ‘victim’ is contested and that many community members prefer other terminology, such as ‘survivor’. There is also an explicit acknowledgement that adverse outcomes of the impact of the justice system, such as trauma, should be minimised.”

About the Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime

According to the Bill’s ES, the purpose of the Charter “is to establish legislated rights for victims of crime and obligations for justice agencies when dealing with victims, along with an accountability framework for ensuring those obligations are met”.

The Charter provides detailed, clear operational guidance to victims and agencies about victim engagement and obligations and introduces rights in the following areas:

  • respectful engagement and protections related to safety and privacy;
  • access to support, services and assistance;
  • information about general administration of justice processes;
  • information in relation to investigations, proceedings and decisions; and
  • participation in proceedings.

As noted on the ACT Government’s YourSay website, the Charter will include “people who have experienced crime and have contacted ACT justice agencies will be covered by the Charter”. In some circumstances, immediate family members and dependents will also be included as well as people who have experienced serious crime may have enhanced rights under the Charter.

The ACT Human Rights Commission (the “HRC”) notes that “people who have been victims of crime have limited influence on the course of investigation, prosecution and sentencing of crimes committed against them”.

The HRC also notes [at page 5] of the Victim and Witness Rights Report (the “Report”):

“Such victims do not usually have lawyers to protect their interests and guide the prosecution process – their primary role in the criminal justice system is as witnesses. There is now recognition that vulnerable victims can be re-victimised through the trial and court processes … There is now recognition that vulnerable victims can be re-victimised through the trial and court processes.”

The Report also reveals the European Court of Human Rights observed that:

“… principles of fair trial require that the interests of the defence are balanced against those of witnesses and victims called upon to testify, in particular where life, liberty or security of person is at stake”.

Government Comment on the Bill

Commenting on the proposed legislation in his speech to parliament, the Minister said:

“The ACT will have the most robust victim rights framework nationally, by transforming the existing governing principles for the treatment of victims of crime in the administration of justice in the Victims of Crime Act 1994, which are broad and aspirational in nature, with clear and detailed obligations for justice agencies … The charter takes an early intervention approach to preventing and reducing the re-traumatisation of victims that can occur due to their participation in the justice process …”

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Victims Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (ACT) - Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase's LawOne Service.

Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime – Final Options Paper (ACT Government, June 2018)

Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime – YourSay (ACT Government, Accessed 8 July 2020)

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