Victoria Bill Proposes New Financial Assistance Scheme for Victims of Crime

Monday 11 April 2022 @ 3.06 p.m. | Crime | Legal Research

On 6 April 2022, the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022 (Vic) (“the Bill”) was introduced in the Victorian Legislative Assembly by the Minister for Victim Support Natalie Hutchins ("the Minister").

The Bill proposes significant changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) (“the Act”) with its primary objective being to establish a new financial assistance scheme for victims of crime.

In a recent media release, the Minister commented that:

“These reforms represent the most significant change in fifty years for victims of crime who are injured as a result of an act of violence – with more victims to become eligible and a more supportive system”.

The proposed reforms are also a response to the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission ("VLRC"), which conducted a review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal ("VOCAT") back in 2018.

In the Second Reading Speech for the Bill given on 7 April 2022, the Minister summarised the findings of that review:

“The VLRC found that the experience for victims in applying to VOCAT is highly retraumatising and requires engagement with an often complex, lengthy and delayed process. This is often after victims have already assisted police with investigations and been through the trauma of participating in a criminal prosecution process…victims often faced lengthy delays before receiving awards, and were sometimes exposed to the indignity of the perpetrator being notified to attend a hearing.”

Overview of the Proposed Scheme

The Bill proposes to amend the Act to introduce a financial assistance scheme that removes the need for victims to apply to VOCAT for relief.

The scheme would be available to eligible victims. Eligible victims under the proposed amendments can be categorised into the following:

  1. ‘primary victims’, which includes persons who are injured or who die as a direct result of an act of violence committed against them;
  2. ‘secondary victims’, which includes persons who are present at the scene of an act of violence and who are injured as a direct result of witnessing that act; and
  3. ‘related victims’, which includes persons who were a close family member of, a dependant of, or had an intimate personal relationship with a primary victim that died as a direct result of the act of violence.

Under the proposed scheme, primary victims would be eligible to receive financial assistance of up to $60,0000 for expenses like medical expenses and reasonable counselling services. Primary victims that have suffered a significant adverse effect as a direct result of the act of violence committed against them, would also be eligible for special financial assistance, up to an amount to be prescribed in future regulations.

Scheme Application Process

Eligible persons would have to apply to the ‘scheme decision maker’ who would then be responsible for making a determination in accordance with the Act.

The Bill proposes that the scheme decision maker:

  • has a duty to act expeditiously when considering and deciding on an application;
  • must decide applications without conducting oral hearings;
  • must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities about the existence of any matter relevant to deciding an application; and
  • give an applicant written notice of a decision with a statement of reasons.

If passed, the Bill would also extend the time-limits within which certain victims can apply for assistance. For example, a primary victim of family violence or a sexual offence, that was at least 18 years old when the act of violence occurred, would be entitled to apply to the scheme within 10 years of the relevant event. Currently, a victim must make an application within 2 years.

The Minister clarified in the Second Reading Speech that:

“These measures will ensure that victims have enough time to feel comfortable enough to apply for the financial assistance they need”.

Introduction of Victim Recognition Meetings

In the Second Reading Speech, the Minister also elaborated on a novel feature of the proposed scheme:

“This Scheme will provide for meaningful acknowledgement of the harm and the way in which the victim’s experience has impacted their lives. To this end, and unlike any other jurisdiction around this country, the Bill will allow victims to request a victim recognition meeting…The meeting, to be held after a decision on the application is made, will provide victims with an opportunity to have their experience acknowledged and for an appropriate representative to express their condolences on behalf of the State”.  

The proposed amendments specify that any victim recognition meeting must be held in private and in a matter that is culturally safe, protects the victim from undue trauma, and prioritises the victim’s safety and wellbeing. Additionally, the proposed amendments also make clear that anything said or done or any document produced at the victim recognition meeting is not admissible as evidence in any legal proceeding.

If passed, the new legislation is expected to commence in late 2023. The Bill is yet to pass the lower house.

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Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022 (VIC) and supporting material available from TimeBase’s LawOne Service

Media Release: Landmark Reforms to Support Victims of Crime (Victoria State Government, Minister for Victim Support, 6 April 2022) 

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