Victims of Crime (Offender Service and Joinder) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Victims of crime compensation is governed by the Victims of Crime Act 2001. The compensation provided to victims compensates the victim for the pain and suffering they have endured as well as compensating their economic loss incurred as a result of the crime. It is a compensation scheme of last resort, meaning that compensation from other sources is intended to be fought first. The victims of crime compensation is not intended to act like civil damages to restore a victim to the position they were prior to the crime, but to provide an acknowledgement from the state of their loss. In this regard, it is more of a redress scheme than a compensation scheme.

There is currently a requirement in section 18 of the Victims of Crime Act that claimants must serve a copy of their application for compensation on the offender. For many victims, such an application can be stressful and traumatic, particularly for domestic violence victims and victims of sexual offending. Quite simply, no victim deserves to have any part of offending against them retriggered.

Currently, the initial application for victims of crime compensation must be made in the prescribed form and is made to the Crown Solicitor's Office. The application is required to contain extensive detailed information, including medical reports on the injuries suffered by the victim. The vast majority of claims are settled by agreement with the Crown. It is exceedingly rare to have court proceedings instituted in victims of crime matters; however, it is possible for a victim to initiate court proceedings if their claim cannot be settled by agreement.

The requirement for victims to serve a copy of the compensation application on the offender is unique to South Australia. We are the only jurisdiction with that type of service requirement in our legislation. All other jurisdictions advise the offender of the outcome of the compensation application at the point when the state initiates recovery proceedings against the offender. There is no ability for the Crown Solicitor to waive the requirement for service in section 18 unless the whereabouts of the offender are unknown and cannot be readily ascertained. Service is also not required if the identity of the offender is unknown.

There have been concerns raised by both victims' legal representatives and by the Crown Solicitor's Office, and indeed by me, that the service requirement in section 18 presents a risk of renewed violence against the victim, particularly in domestic and family violence matters. This is a particular concern because the service requirement is imposed on the claimant directly. Any kind of direct contact, even via post, represents a risk of retriggering violence towards the victim. The communication can be perceived by offenders as the victim personally 'doing this to me'.

There are many victims for whom the requirement to contact their offender is so traumatising that they are too scared to comply with the requirement and may forgo a compensation application altogether. Additionally, victims and their legal representatives often have trouble obtaining the current contact details for the offender to serve the application. This is particularly true when the offender is a minor, as their contact details are not in the record of court outcome usually supplied to the Commissioner for Victims' Rights and cannot be provided to the victim for privacy reasons, but the service requirement contains no exemptions in the case of young offenders.

The bill removes the requirement in section 18 for the victim to serve a copy of their application for compensation on the offender. This ensures that all communications with the offender occur after compensation has been paid and the matter finalised with the victim and will come directly from the Crown Solicitor's Office. The victim will have no need to make any kind of contact with the offender, reducing the risk of triggering renewed violence.

There is currently also a requirement in section 19 for a victim to serve a copy of any application to the court, if court proceedings are initiated after the matter has not been settled by agreement. This situation is rare, as the vast majority of matters are settled by agreement with the Crown; however, the obligation on the victim is still present in the act. These provisions are amended by the bill to provide the court with the power to dispense with the service requirement upon application by the claimant.

The bill will also ease the administrative burden on the Crown Solicitor's Office, which is often forced to spend time redacting sensitive information in section 18 applications when a copy is requested by the offender who has complained they did not receive a copy from the victim. As a result of the amendments, the Crown Solicitor's Office will be free to develop a simpler notification for the offender that does not disclose sensitive information.

Offenders will still be able to make representations to the Crown Solicitor's Office to the effect that the amount of compensation to be recovered from the offender should be reduced. This opportunity has not been removed but will now occur later in the process. Again, this change is bringing South Australia more closely in line with other jurisdictions, where offenders are contacted by the state and only at the point where recovery of the money is sought from the offender. This bill makes only a small change to the legislation, but it will have an outsized positive impact for victims negotiating the victims of crime compensation system in this state.

Accordingly, I commend the bill to members and I seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.

Leave granted.

Explanation of Clauses

Part 1—Preliminary

1—Short title

2—Commencement

3—Amendment provisions

These clauses are formal.

Part 2—Amendment of Victims of Crime Act 2001

4—Amendment of section 18—Application for compensation

This clause deletes the requirement for an application to the Crown for statutory compensation to be served on the offender.

5—Amendment of section 19—Joinder of offender as party to court proceedings

This clause amends section 19 of the Act to permit the Court, on application by a claimant in respect of an application to the Court for statutory compensation, to exempt the claimant from the obligation to serve a copy of the application on the offender. If such an exemption is granted, the offender is not a party to the proceedings before the Court. Currently the Court has this discretion only where the whereabouts of the offender are not known and cannot be readily ascertained.

Debate adjourned on motion of Dr Close.