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Policy position

Enhancing the Victim Impact Statement process to reduce harm and increase victim participation

The Victim Impact Statement process needs to be safer and more trauma-informed for victims of crime

A Victim Impact Statement (VIS) is an important mechanism for victims to have a voice in the justice process and feel like rightful participants in the justice process. Victims have told the Victims of Crime Commissioner that when the VIS process works well, it can be truly life changing.  

But the VIS process is not working as well as it should be for victims.  

Too often, victims are afraid that their VIS will be used to undermine and discredit them.  

If a VIS is prepared, the prosecutor is required to provide a copy to the court and the offender (or their legal practitioner). It is also possible that a victim may be cross-examined on the contents of the VIS. Victims have told the Victims of Crime Commissioner that this process is causing harm and secondary victimisation 

Victims are fearful of preparing a VIS too ‘early’ (in case defence counsel use it to cross-examine them on inconsistencies) - but if they do not prepare a VIS ‘early’, they may miss their opportunity to have a voice at sentencing.  

It is essential for victims that the VIS process provides as much protection as possible to give victims confidence that the process will be safe and not re-traumatising.  

The Victims of Crime Commissioner advocates for legislative amendments to safeguard a VIS. Victims should be able to prepare a Victim Impact Statement before a plea or finding of guilt and have their VIS ‘quarantined’ until required by the court. 

A new legislative test should also be introduced to restrict questioning of a victim about their Victim Impact Statement (VIS). A court should only permit the questioning of a victim about their VIS where the court is satisfied that there is a clear and strong justification for doing so.  

Victims should also have access to state-funded legal representation so that they can be independently legally represented if they are to be questioned on their VIS. The Victorian Government should also amend the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) to provide that the offender cannot personally cross-examine a victim about their Victim Impact Statement. 

To ensure courts are encouraging the use of VISs, particularly in the Magistrates’ Court, the Victims of Crime Commissioner also advocates for the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) should be amended to require the court, prior to sentencing, to ask the prosecution whether the victim wishes to make a VIS. If the prosecution advises the court that a victim wishes to make a VIS, or the prosecution cannot provide sufficient information to the court about victims’ wishes, the court should adjourn the proceedings to permit the victim to prepare a VIS or to permit the prosecutor to make further enquiries.

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