Author: Whittlesea Community Legal Service
Discussion Paper funded by a grant from the Legal Services Board of Victoria. This Discussion Paper provides an analysis of the current legal framework for the assistance of victims of crime in Victoria with a particular focus on assistance provided by the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (“VOCAT”).
Some points of interest:
1…only a small proportion of victims who are eligible to claim compensation actually lodge an application. The results of the research indicate that barriers to victims accessing assistance from the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal still exist…The barriers that were identified by the research include: lack of awareness of victims’ eligibility to recover compensation from VOCAT; difficulty in gaining access to legal representation; difficulties associated with obtaining documentation to support an application; the length of time that it takes for an application to be resolved and the negative impact this can have on the victim; the potential for the alleged offender to be notified of the hearing and the impact this can have on the victim. (page 6)
2. Legal practitioners consulted for this research stated that where psychologists and other medical professionals were familiar with the VOCAT process there was a much greater willingness on their part to forego upfront fees. The standard of reports was also reported to be higher where medical professionals were familiar with VOCAT and the purpose of the report…Where medical professionals and others were not familiar with the VOCAT process it was often more difficult and costly for the legal practitioner to gain the documentation required to support the application…Legal practitioners reported that it is often difficult to find medical practitioners and psychologists/psychiatrists who are familiar with the VOCAT process. (Page 43)
3. Reluctance on the part of legal practitioners to deal with VOCAT matters was identified in the Grant Application as a key barrier to victims of crime accessing assistance from the Tribunal. (page 52)….The private practitioners who were contacted by the researcher cited a combination of low costs awarded to legal practitioners by the Tribunal along with the fact that VOCAT clients, as clients who may be experiencing trauma and distress tend to be more demanding than other clients, as discouraging private practitioners from entering or remaining in this area of practice. These factors were reiterated by legal practitioners from Community Legal Centres when asked to comment on why so few private practitioners might choose to practice in this area. (page 56)….One victims’ support agency found that legal costs were such an issue for private practitioners that when the agency attempted to refer clients to legal practitioners who had previously done an excellent job with VOCAT applications they were often told that the legal practitioner would not take on another VOCAT case. (page 57).
4. Recommendations for reform…Increase the costs that can be recovered by legal practitioners…Increasing the amount that the Tribunal can award to legal practitioners would encourage more private practitioners to take on VOCAT matters, reducing the burden on CLCs…While an increase of this kind would entail extra costs for the Tribunal, on the other hand there are benefits that are likely to be gained by the Tribunal from having all or most clients represented by a legal practitioner. For example, the fact that victims with legal representation are less likely to consume Registrars and court staff’s time with queries that can be directed to their legal practitioner (page 65).
5. The Chief Magistrate of the Tribunal, Ian Gray, in the 2009/2010 Annual Report notes that increasing numbers of VOCAT applications are placing a strain on the Tribunal’s resources with the timeliness of the Tribunal’s response to applicants maintained but not improved…As has been suggested from the research and is acknowledged by the Tribunal, delay is detrimental to the victim: “Delay discourages victims of crime, and diminishes the impact of the financial assistance and acknowledgement ultimately made available to them”. The research identifies a need to introduce measures to reduce the timeline for processing VOCAT applications. (page 77).
If you have been the victim of crime in Victoria and require professional counselling and compensation services freecall: 1800 000 055 for Victims of Crime Counselling & Compensations Services (VOCCS).