Statement on proposed changes to sentence indications
Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Victims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack said:
“As Commissioner, I believe reducing court backlog should not come at the expense of victims’ right to participate in the justice process.
“I am concerned this Bill will further erode victims’ role as participant in criminal proceedings, contrary to the objectives of the Victims’ Charter.
“This Bill makes changes to the sentence indication process aimed at addressing court delay. While I support initiatives to speed up trials and reduce delays which we know can further traumatise victims, this should not be a zero-sum game.
“This Bill does not strike the right balance between reducing court backlog and ensuring victim participation. It has insufficient safeguards to ensure victim impact is considered at sentence indication stage, and does not adequately safeguard victims’ right to be consulted about sentence indication decisions.
“It is not clear how courts or prosecutions would uphold victims’ rights in an increasingly time-pressured environment.
“Without stronger safeguards securing victims’ consultation and participation at critical stages of the criminal justice process, these reforms will only further alienate victims from the justice process.
“While some victims may be relieved that they won’t have to face a trial, others will be devastated especially if they were hoping that their Victim Impact Statement would influence sentencing considerations. Therefore, what is critical is that there is a mandatory process that ensures victims can participate—this includes being provided information and consulted during the decision-making process.
“The Bill should include requirements that improve victim participation and require the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to:
- seek the views of victims before making a decision to agree to or oppose an application for a sentence indication, and providing sufficient time for victims to consider the issues
- provide victims with information about the matters taken into account in making a decision to agree to or oppose an application for a sentence indication
- gather information on victim impact prior to a sentence indication hearing.
“The Bill should also:
- require the court to confirm the DPP has consulted with the victim prior to making a sentence indication and request information from the DPP about victim impact before a sentence indication is provided
- safeguard victims’ rights during the sentence indication process by enshrining information and consultation rights in the Victims’ Charter.
“There is the potential for this Bill to significantly impact on victims’ participation in the justice system. The Bill should require that there be an independent review of the scheme with that review tabled in Parliament to ensure transparency and accountability.”