VICTIMS of crime desperately need help to negotiate a ”toothless” compensation system that only allows one in 10 victims to receive assistance, community legal services say.
The Federation of Community Legal Centres has renewed calls for the state to appoint a crime victims’ commissioner, following revelations in Fairfax Media of the struggles of Nick Clarke, who was bashed in Chinatown four years ago.
Federation spokeswoman Michelle McDonnell said Mr Clarke’s story demonstrated the barriers victims faced in finding lawyers and health professionals who take on Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) cases, which are hampered by bureaucratic red tape and low financial return. Ms McDonnell said Victoria should follow South Australia’s lead and have a commissioner to advocate for victims.
Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Martin Pakula, backed the call, saying: ”The legal system simply must treat victims of crime with more empathy, more compassion and deal with their claims more quickly.”
Ms McDonnell said the system imposed too many hurdles: poor police reporting, problems with evidence, trouble finding doctors and lawyers who would help, the use of a victim’s own criminal record as evidence, and the fact an accused could be told of a claim, causing anxiety, particularly in domestic violence claims.
She said the state’s Victims Charter was ”toothless”, with no penalties for breaching victims’ rights, and a commissioner could help enforce it. Breaches might include police failing to file a crime report, a common problem for victims seeking VOCAT assistance.
She said Victoria Police had stopped reporting its compliance figures, but the last time it had, in 2009-10, only 83 per cent of reported crimes had police reports filed. And a study funded by the Legal Services Board estimated that, at best, only 15 per cent of eligible victims applied for assistance from VOCAT in 2009-10.
Victoria Police yearly figures show that in 2011-12, the number of crimes against individuals rose 11.8 per cent to 53,454. In that same year, the number of claims to VOCAT had dropped by 2 per cent to 6163, according to the tribunal’s annual report.
About 30 per cent of claims were abandoned by the victims or struck out by the tribunal.
A Department of Justice statement said it was ”very sorry to read of Mr Clarke’s experience with the victims compensation system”.
”The victims compensation system should operate in a simple and accessible manner, and not deter individuals from seeking justice and compensation,” the statement said.
Anyone who wants to discuss their treatment or seek support can call the Victims of Crime Compensation & Counselling Services on 1800 000 055 or go to www.victimsofcrime.com.au or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email: email@example.com