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Policy position

Cultural change in the legal system

Victims of crime are still dealing with a justice system lacking knowledge, expertise and insights into their justice needs

More needs to be done to ensure the justice professionals victims encounter are trained and education about victimsitation, trauma and victims’ justice and recovery needs.  

A key barrier to safe participation in the justice system is that lawyers and judicial officers have been socialised in a legal culture and structure that, until very recently, has not recognised victims as legitimate participants in criminal proceedings.  

Research indicates that victims’ satisfaction with the justice process depends significantly on how the process is conducted – that is, procedural fairness. The extent to which victims feel they are treated with dignity and respect will inform their assessment of the quality of their interactions with authorities.  

Lawyers and judicial officers play an important role in enabling victims to participate in the justice process. However, many victims advise the Victims of Crime Commissioner (VOCC) that they’re dismayed at how they are treated by the courts and justice agencies.  

It is therefore essential to focus on the challenge of cultural change. If this is not done, there is likely to be an ‘implementation gap’ between reforms and what happens for victims in a practical sense.  

A number of recent reviews and inquiries in Victoria have continued to raise concerns about the training and education of lawyers and judicial officers in Victoria.  

The VOCC urges the Victorian Government and key justice agencies to focus on improving cultural change, including: 

  • the Judicial College of Victoria developing a training and education framework on victims’ rights and entitlements underpinned by trauma-informed principles 
  • heads of jurisdiction in all courts dealing with victims directing all judicial officers to participate in specified victims’ training, professional development or continuing education before sitting on criminal cases and appeals 
  • the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner, Office of Public Prosecutions and Victoria Legal Aid examining ways of improving training and education for all lawyers (prosecution and defence) in relation to victims’ rights and entitlements and victim-centred legal practice, with a view to developing a training and education framework for all lawyers (prosecution and defence) in relation to victims’ rights and entitlements and victim-centred legal practice. 

Education and training is fundamental to understanding trauma and the systemic barriers and challenges faced by victims of crime, as well as the varied substantive laws concerning victims’ rights. However, education and training for justice professionals is not only about understanding relevant laws, such as those on victims’ rights. Victim-centred legal practices require skill development in communicating with victims and interacting with victims in a trauma-informed manner. 

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