The VOCAT Application Process
VOCAT is an administrative tribunal within the Court, constituted by members who are also magistrates of the Court. This means victims of crime gain acknowledgement of their experiences by a judicial officer in the criminal justice system, but in the more flexible, informal and intimate manner afforded by an administrative tribunal.
Most applicants are legally represented. VOCAT usually covers the reasonable cost of the lawyer’s fees, and lawyers cannot bill clients for a VOCAT application without VOCAT’s approval.
After an application is lodged VOCAT has investigative powers to help make its decisions. Once an application is lodged, Victoria Police are asked for information to help determine whether a crime occurred and whether the applicant is a victim of that crime. Criminal history of the alleged offender and of the victim is also obtained. Medical or psychological reports may also be requested.
Applicants are required to provide all the documents they will rely upon to support their claims and usually have four months to do this. Opportunity is given for applicants to file supporting documents, but if not received the claim can be struck out. Applicants can ask to have claims reinstated if they subsequently provide supporting documents.
The applicant and their lawyer may be asked to attend directions hearings to decide any preliminary questions and help manage applicants’ expectations.
In respect to how long before a result The Act and general rules of procedural fairness mean VOCAT is required to have regard to matters that can impact on the time it takes to finalise an application. These may include: awaiting the outcome of a criminal investigation, trial or inquest; the need for further enquiries or, in some cases, for the alleged offender to be notified of the application; waiting for an injury to stabilise so an accurate prognosis can be provided; and in related victim applications identifying and communicating with all potential related victims of the deceased to advise them of their rights in relation to VOCAT.
Applicants can request that VOCAT determine their application with or without the need to appear at a hearing. If a hearing takes place it is usually within six weeks of a VOCAT member deciding to conduct it. If an applicant asks for a hearing, it generally happens within six to ten weeks of the applicant filing all supporting material. Applicants who need urgent assistance can seek an interim award of financial assistance.
Further, any financial assistance available under the Act may be awarded only where compensation cannot be obtained from another source, such as the offender, WorkCover, the Transport Accident Commission and insurance schemes.
An applicant who is not satisfied with VOCAT’s decision can apply to VCAT – Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review of the decision. VCAT can conduct a new hearing, including considering any new evidence, and can: confirm or vary the original order; make a new order; or return the application to VOCAT to be reconsidered.
In the period 2011 – 2012 VOCAT awarded 4,346 applicants financial assistance.
Information taken from the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal 2011–12 Annual Report.