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Systemic inquiry - Victim participation in the Justice System

The Commissioner’s first systemic inquiry focused on victim participation in the justice system.

As part of this inquiry, the Commissioner has looked at victims’ experiences of participating in the justice system and whether new laws or policies are needed to help victims participate in keeping with what they’re legally entitled to under the Victims’ Charter.

The report was finalised in November 2023 and released in March 2024. It is available able in full or four separate parts.

Preliminary information contains the Executive Summary and List of recommendations.

Part 1 of this report introduces the Victims of Crime Commissioner’s (VOCC’s) systemic inquiry into victim participation. It includes an overview of the VOCC’s inquiry approach and sets out the structure of the report while also providing background and historical context.

Part 2 of this report explores whether victims feel as though they’ve been able to participate in the justice system. This part of the report focuses on what the VOCC heard through consulting with victims and stakeholders.

Part 3 of this report sets out the Victims of Crime Commissioner’s recommendations for building a justice system that enables authentic participation by victims.

Why victim participation?

Too often victims are not at the centre of decisions and processes. Victims’ rights, interests, feelings, and wishes are seen as an afterthought, or worse, not recognised, seen, or heard at all.

Since 2018, victims in Victoria have been recognised under the Victims’ Charter as ‘participants’ in criminal proceedings. But such reforms do not always translate into real improvements in victims’ experience of the justice process.

Little is known about how victims are experiencing these new participatory entitlements in Victoria and whether victims’ status as a participant in the justice process has improved with these entitlements.

Background to the inquiry

A 2016 report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC), Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process, found there is a significant gap between the victim’s role as expressed in legislation and the victim’s experience in practice.

The VLRC recommended that the role of the victim as a participant in criminal proceedings be legislatively and operationally recognised.

Since the Victorian Government introduced changes in 2018, the Victims’ Charter has recognised victims as a participant, but not a party, in proceedings for criminal offences. Specifically, the Victims’ Charter was amended in 2018 to create:

  • A new object of the Victims’ Charter to recognise that a victim of crime has an inherent interest in the response by the criminal justice system to that crime, giving rise to the rights and entitlements set out in the Charter, and to acknowledge the victim's role as a participant, but not a party, in proceedings for criminal offences.
  • A requirement for investigatory, prosecuting and victims’ services agencies to respect the rights and entitlements of victims as participants in proceedings for criminal offences.

Release of Commissioner’s systemic inquiry report Silenced and sidelined: Systemic inquiry into victim participation in the justice system

The Commissioner has released her first systemic inquiry report.

In undertaking the inquiry, the Commissioner heard from many victims of crime about their experiences through a survey, interviews with individual victims of crime and through lived-experience committees.

The report makes 55 recommendations aimed at improving victim participation in the justice system.

These recommendations relate to:

  • creating a stronger victims’ rights framework for victims under the Victims’ Charter and Human Rights Charter
  • enhancing the police reporting process
  • improved participation for victims during the investigation stage
  • an enhanced victim support system, including better information for victims
  • a comprehensive approach to legal advice and assistance for all victims of crime
  • enhanced standing, and independent legal representation, during criminal trials for victims of sexual offences
  • safer spaces in court for victims and more at-court support
  • enhanced protections for victim-witnesses during trials
  • improved participation for victims during sentencing processes
  • enhanced participation for victims during non-trial justice processes like bail, restorative justice, diversion, parole and under the crimes mental impairment process
  • education and professional development across the legal profession aimed at creating meaningful cultural change.

The Commissioner also recommends increased transparency and accountability by the Victorian Government in addressing the range of recommendations arising in key inquiries and reports relating to victims over the past decade to better track progress towards cultural change.

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