Amendment of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009

Victim Assist Queensland supports victims of violence to access services and financial assistance.

The amended Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009 (VOCAA) commenced 1 July 2017.

The purpose of the changes is to ensure that government and non-government agencies provide an increasingly effective response to victims of crime in Queensland.

See below for an overview of significant changes that are now in effect.

The rights of victims of crime have been enhanced with the introduction of the Charter of Victims’ Rights.

The Charter of Victims’ Rights (the charter) replaces the Fundamental principles of justice for victims of crime.

There are 2 key initiatives that implement recommendation 12 of the review.

The charter informs victims about what they can expect from government departments and non-government agencies that support victims.

It also introduces 2 new rights:

  • A victim’s property that is held by the state for an investigation or as evidence will be returned to the victim as soon as possible.
  • Eligible persons will be given the opportunity to write to the parole board under the Corrective Services Act 2006 about granting parole to the offender.

The charter applies to all victims of domestic and family violence.

In relation to the charter, the amendments expand the definition of a victim to include people who have suffered harm because:

  • domestic violence is committed against them
  • they are a family member or dependent of a person who suffered harm because domestic violence was committed against that person
  • they have intervened to help a person who suffered harm because domestic violence was committed against that person.

The charter applies to all acts of violence, and includes breaching domestic violence orders, police protection notices and conditions on release orders.

The charter places a proactive duty on agencies to give information to victims

As per recommendation 13, the charter places the onus on relevant agencies to proactively provide information to victims, if appropriate and practicable to do so  .

All agencies that work with victims are responsible for ensuring that victims are given information, as soon as possible, about services that may help them recover. The charter also outlines the responsibility for agencies such as the Queensland Police Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Queensland Corrective Services to proactively give information about the victims’ registers,  investigations and prosecutions without the victim having to ask for the information, when it is appropriate and practicable to do so.

A victim will be informed about the progress of the police investigation (unless this may jeopardise the investigation). If the investigation could be jeopardised, the victim will be informed accordingly.

A victim can expect information on each major decision about the prosecution of the accused person, including:

  • the charges brought against the accused person
  • a decision not to bring charges
  • substantial changes to the charges
  • accepting a plea of guilty to a lesser or different charge.

A victim will be informed about the name of the person charged over the crime, or if a warrant is issued for the arrest of the accused person.

A victim can expect information about court processes, including:

  • hearing dates and how to attend court
  • details of any diversionary programs available to the accused
  • the result of the criminal court proceeding against the accused person, including the sentence imposed and outcome of any appeal.

A victim will be informed about:

  • an application for bail made by the accused person
  • outcomes of the bail application
  • any arrangements made for the release of the accused person, including any special conditions that may impact their safety or welfare.

If a victim is a witness at the accused’s trial, the victim will be informed about the trial process and the victim’s role as a witness.

An eligible person will be kept informed of the offender’s period of imprisonment or detention, any escape of the offender from custody or if the offender is unlawfully at large.

An eligible person will be given the opportunity to write  to the parole board under the Corrective Services Act 2006 about granting parole to the offender.

The charter applies to non-government agencies funded to provide a service to victims to help them recover from a crime

The charter applies to both government and non-government entities (and employees of these entities) that receive funding from a commonwealth, state or territory governments to provide services to victims of crime. This implements recommendation 14 of the review.

The charter expands the role of the Victim Services Coordinator to help victims resolve complaints

A victim may make a complaint if they feel the charter has not been followed, and should be given information about the procedure for making a complaint.

A victim can complain to either:

  • the agency they feel has not followed the charter or
  • Victim Assist Queensland (to the victim services coordinator).

If a government or non-government agency receives a complaint, it must give the victim information about the process for resolving the complaint and take all reasonable steps to resolve the complaint as soon as is reasonably practicable.

An entity may resolve the complaint itself. Alternatively, as part of these ‘reasonable steps’, a government entity may refer the complaint to Victim Assist    or to another government entity for investigation (e.g. the Ombudsman). A non-government agency may refer the complaint to Victim Assist or to the relevant government funder for investigation.

If Victim Assist receives the complaint directly from the victim, the Victim Services Coordinator may liaise with the entity concerned and facilitate the resolution of the complaint or refer the complaint to the relevant government or non-government entity.

Financial assistance will be available for victims of all forms of domestic and family violence

The expanded definition of an ‘act of violence’ will ensure all eligible victims who have suffered injuries or adverse impacts from domestic and family violence will be able to access our financial assistance. This includes victims of elder abuse.

This change will implement recommendation 7 of the review as well as recommendation 95 of the Special Taskforce Report on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.

Once in place, an act of violence will include those defined in the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 that have occurred in Queensland. It will include behaviours occurring in a relevant relationship that are:

  • physically or sexually abusive
  • emotionally or psychologically abusive
  • economically abusive
  • threatening or coercive
  • controlling or dominating to cause fear for one’s safety or wellbeing.

A relevant relationship is defined by the DFVP Act as:

  • an intimate partner relationship (including spousal, engagement and couple relationships)
  • a family relationship
  • an informal care relationship.

The evidence required to be eligible for financial assistance will remain the same. The assessor will need to consider third party evidence that an act of violence happened, and evidence of the injury or adverse impact resulting from that act of violence.

This means the act of violence must be reported. Domestic and family violence victims can report to the police, a counsellor, domestic violence service, doctor, or psychologist.

The expanded definition of an act of violence will not apply retrospectively. However, when acts of domestic and family violence happened both before and after 1 July 2017, a victim may be eligible for some assistance for the earlier act(s) of violence. Please contact us for more information.

A victim impact statement will be an option for all victims of domestic and family violence in criminal proceedings

The victim impact statement provisions are now transferred to the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992.

A victim is permitted the prosecutor details of the harm caused to the victim the offence.

At sentencing, the victim, (or someone else authorised on their behalf) can usually read the victim impact statement aloud in court, or ask the prosecutor to read it aloud for them.

The recent amendments allow all victims of offences of domestic and family violence (including breach offences under the DFVP Act) to provide a victim impact statement to the court describing the harm they have suffered from the offence.

Breach offences in the DFVP Act include breaching a:

  • domestic violence order
  • police protection notice
  • condition imposed on a person on their release from custody.

The recent amendments to the Penalties and Sentences Act also allow a person to give the prosecutor a victim impact statement electronically, for example in an email.

Applying for financial assistance is easier for victims of a crime

Applications do not need to include a statutory declaration

The financial assistance application process is easier. Applicants do not need to verify their identity with a statutory declaration. This change implemented recommendation 2 of the review.

We still need to establish proof of identity before any financial payments are made, and appropriate checks will be implemented to confirm the victim’s identity and prevent fraud. However, a statutory declaration will not be required when the application is first submitted.

Applications do not need to include a medical certificate

A medical certificate is no longer be required to apply for financial assistance. This reduces the burden on victims when submitting their application and allows our assessors to approach the applications with more flexibility, obtaining the evidence required to verify a victim’s injury at a later time. This new approach implements recommendation 3 of the review.

A medical certificate may be included with the application, but is not be mandatory. Evidence of injury or adverse impacts (for sexual assault or DFV victims) will still be required when assessing the application.

If a victim is unable to provide evidence of injury or adverse impacts with their application, we can gather evidence from a range of sources, including:

  • doctors, psychologists, other registered health practitioners
  • counsellors
  • Queensland Health facilities (e.g. medical records, discharge summaries)
  • police reports
  • domestic violence services
  • the Queensland Courts (e.g. documents provided to a court in support of a private application for a protection order).

Victims are encouraged to provide medical information (e.g. our medical certificate form) with their application, because gathering information from other sources may delay the assessment of the application.

New forms will make it easier to apply for financial assistance

We have developed new application forms, which are shorter and simpler to use.

There is a separate application form for each victim category (primary, parent, witness and related victims) and a separate form for funeral assistance.

The forms have been written with the victim’s safety in mind and provide the opportunity to nominate the safest way to send information to victims.

The forms include a place for an applicant to nominate a person to support them during the application and assessment process. Victims can also request that another person receives our communications on their behalf.

The new forms include simple notes instructing users how to complete the form, rather than needing them to refer to a separate document.

Changes to financial assistance benefit victims

Maximum funeral assistance payable to an eligible victim has increased from $6,000 to $8,000

The first recommendation in the ‘Final report of the review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009’ (the review), recognises the increased cost of funerals and provides a higher level of assistance to victims who have prematurely lost a loved one from an act of violence.

The time limit for applying for funeral assistance may be extended, if the applicant puts in a request for this and it is considered appropriate and desirable to do so. The current time limit is 3 years from the date of the act of violence.

Special assistance is paid at a fixed amount, based on the severity of the act of violence

Special assistance is a recognition payment given to primary victims.

In response to recommendation 5, we have removed the minimum and maximum amounts for each category of special assistance.

In a more simplified approach, each category will be paid as follows:

  • Category A: $10,000 — Will include serious crimes such as attempted murder, rape, incest against children under 16, and maintaining an unlawful relationship with a child under 16.
  • Category B: $3,500 — Will include, but not be limited to, other sexual offences, grievous bodily harm, burglary with violence, armed robbery, torture and kidnapping.
  • Category C: $2,000 — Will include, but not be limited to, serious assaults, other robberies, unlawful wounding, assault while armed resulting in bodily harm, and cruelty to children.
  • Category D: $1,000 — Will include, but not be limited to, acts of domestic and family violence not covered in a higher category, stalking, and deprivation of liberty.

If the victim is a child, this money will be held by the Public Trustee until they turn 18.

The offence of cruelty to children (section 364 of the Criminal Code) will also be included as a category C offence.

Pool limits on assistance for secondary and related victims have been removed. All applicants apply individually.

We have removed shared pools of assistance for secondary and related victims, so that each application will be considered on its own merits.

As per recommendation 4, the pools of financial assistance will no longer be divided between eligible family members. Each eligible family member may be granted up to $50,000 to access services to help their recovery.

For example, consider a parent secondary victim who is injured from becoming aware of an act of violence against a victim under 18 for which they are a parent or primary carer of.

This parent secondary victim may be granted financial assistance up to $50,000 to access:

  • medical, counselling and reasonable travel expenses
  • report expenses incurred in applying for assistance
  • other exceptional expenses, such as relocation and security upgrades.

An additional reimbursement of up to $20,000 in lost income may be available in exceptional circumstances.

A related victim is a close family member or financial dependant of a person who has died as a direct result of a crime.

The related victim may be granted financial assistance up to $50,000 to access:

  • medical, counselling and reasonable travel expenses
  • report expenses incurred in applying for assistance
  • other exceptional expenses such as crime scene clean-up and travel to attend a funeral.

A dependency payment of up to $20,000 is also available.

Distress payments (up to $10,000) and funeral expenses (up to $8,000) granted to related victims are considered as part of the maximum available financial assistance.

Grants of assistance for expenses will be paid according to receipts and invoices for eligible expenses.

Background information

On 22 March 2017, the Queensland Parliament passed the Victims of Crime Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017.

To summarise, the Act:

  • simplifies how victims apply for financial assistance
  • expands the scope of financial assistance to include all victims of domestic and family violence
  • removes limiting pools of financial assistance to ensure all applications are considered on their own merit
  • introduces of a Charter of Victims’ Rights to guide how government and non-government agencies respond to victims
  • introduces a sexual assault counselling privilege
  • automatically gives victims of a sexual offence the status of special witness if they are to give evidence in a criminal proceeding against the accused.

You can read more about about the changes, including:

  • the Act
  • Parliamentary committee report
  • Final report of the review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009
  • stakeholder submissions.

Find out more

For more information about Victim Assist and how we help victims, you can: