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Report targets better victim support

Statement on report

May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:16):

I rise to speak on the Legal and Social Issues Committee report on the inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system*.

With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend and 6pc of offenders being responsible for more than 44pc of crimes reported to Victoria Police, there was a solid case for evaluating how we break the downward spiral of offending and try to limit the suffering of those who are victims and survivors.

In retrospect, given how broad this inquiry was, I probably would have preferred that the examination of the criminal justice system was separated into two parts: first, how we address serious and violent offending, and then a separate consideration of lower level offending.

In considering factors that increase the risk of engagement with the criminal justice system, the inquiry confirmed that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact and that support for children and young people should be community led, place based and focused on education and employment.

How we implement early interventions and primary prevention strategies that address the root cause of offending, particularly where it relates to disadvantage, trauma, childhood neglect and family violence, is an ongoing challenge and a responsibility. This was strongly reflected in the report and is a key focus of the regular discussions I have with ministers about our justice system.

While the inquiry gave a general recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility, I acknowledge the answer the Attorney-General recently gave to a question in the chamber about this very matter.

I am very supportive of the Attorney’s response that the focus should be on holistic programs that stop children from being caught up in the justice system in the first place. How we support at-risk children and, importantly, their families with appropriate, trauma-informed services that are implemented early with intensity and consistency must be a priority.

This inquiry considered diversion programs and the important role they have to play in providing alternative pathways to prison whilst keeping our community safe.

Victoria Police issue around 130,000 cautions and diversions every year, and Drug Courts are another judicially-supervised pathway that is proving effective and worthy of expansion. There are various recommendations about data and the importance of evaluations and transparency. Some will be difficult to implement and require further unpacking with key stakeholders before progressing.

Three chapters of the inquiry report are dedicated to victims of crime, their experience and support. Some of the recommendations made by the inquiry have progressed quite recently, including a new financial assistance scheme, which will go a long way to assisting victims of crime, something I have been advocating for since my first day in Parliament.

While I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws relating to high-risk offenders, or that may rush major law reform without evidence-based early interventions in place that are well-funded, evaluated and working.

This makes it clear that our justice system should ensure that presumptions against bail are targeted to serious offending and serious risk. It also recommends that any review of practices should take the views of victims and law enforcement into account. I will note that offences subject to strict circumstances in the granting of bail include serious charges such as murder, manslaughter, threats to kill, rape, incest, family violence, drug trafficking, home invasion and committing offences while on parole. These are not trivial offences, and they are certainly not victimless.

We cannot forget the six people killed and 30 injured at Bourke Street Mall (on January 20, 2017). We cannot forget the families who suffer after their loved ones have been killed by someone on parole or bail. This did not just happen once. It happened to Jill Meagher, to Karen Chetcuti, to Zoe Buttigieg, to Courtney Herron, to Masa Vukotic. Before the Coghlan review more than 20 Victorians were killed by serial offenders who should have been in jail—20 offenders.

With more than 800 pages and 100 recommendations there will continue to be much to say about the justice inquiry. I look forward to the government’s consideration of the recommendations made and the continued debate it will no doubt generate as we continue to endeavour to make our community safer.

* The report was tabled in the Legislative Council on February 24, 2022.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party victim rights amendments pass

Stuart Grimley MP, State Leader, Member for Western Victoria
Tania Maxwell MP, Member for Northern Victoria

JOINT STATEMENT

February 9, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party last night advanced Victoria’s recognition of people harmed by crime when the Legislative Council passed two key changes to the government’s omnibus criminal procedure legislation.

The Opposition and crossbench supported two of three DHJP amendments to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021.

These changes were first recommended to the government by the Victorian Law Reform Commission six years ago in a landmark review of the role of victims in criminal trials.

The first will mandate the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) to notify crime victims of their right to make a victim impact statement at an offender’s sentencing.

The second will compel the OPP and other crime agencies to inform victims of their right to compensation or restitution from a convicted offender, and to refer them to available legal help.

The third, endorsed by the Victims of Crime Commissioner, would have enabled victims to seek a review of an OPP decision to discontinue an offender’s prosecution, or allow a serious offence to be plea-bargained to a lesser charge, and to be told of this right.

But the proposed right to a review was defeated on a tied vote, 18-18, when the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten and Greens’ Samantha Ratnam shifted their support to the government, which opposed the change.

The Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick opposed each of the DHJP amendments.

Comments from Stuart Grimley MP:

“With these amendments, the simple fact is that whatever is in the current regulations, policies and legislation, dealing with victim impact statements and restitution is not working.

“These amendments are simple and straightforward and will further strengthen the rights of victims within the judicial process.

“We must remember – victims do not choose to be victims. That decision is made for them by offenders. These amendments give more control back to victims, which is so often cruelly taken away by perpetrators.”

Comments from Tania Maxwell MP:

“Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party works for fair, just and safe communities.

“We’ll now be working hard to find another way for people harmed by crime to request a review when a prosecution is dropped or changed.

“Enduring feedback from victims of crime is that they feel let down and excluded from the justice process. They say we have a legal system, not a justice system, and that this compounds their trauma.

“The Victims’ Charter Act 2006 requires that victims’ views are sought and that they are informed of decision-making. But victims are often informed of these decisions after they are done and dusted and there is no provision for victims to seek any form of review.”

Advancing fair, just outcomes for crime victims

Speech

February 8, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (15:18):

I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021. I am not going to go through a lot of the bill, as my colleagues Dr Bach, Mr Erdogan and Mr Grimley have already discussed in some length what the bill actually does. However, I will say that the bill amends disclosure obligations as recommended by the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants, provides for victims to give remote evidence for family violence matters in some circumstances and allows for personal safety information orders to be made online. All of these are things that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party gives full support.

The bill provides for a Chief Magistrate to hold a dual commission. The bill also provides the ability to give a sentence indication to an offender in order to encourage more guilty pleas. I know we have a massive backlog in our courts at the moment, and this is designed to speed up that process. Indeed the latest annual report from the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) shows that plea offer advisings almost doubled from 2017 to 2019. I note that it is often suggested that plea-bargaining helps avoid further trauma for victims, which is sometimes the case, but often it is not. Victims often tell me that they want their day in court, they want the opportunity for evidence to be presented. So while the plea-bargaining process and encouraging guilty pleas may provide certainty, it is not always the certainty that victims equate with justice.

This bill makes consequential amendments to the Victims’ Charter Act 2006, and I will be putting an amendment forward to require that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) provides a process for review of certain decisions and to notify a victim of this entitlement. This right to review would include decisions to not charge a person with a criminal offence, to substantially modify charges, to discontinue the prosecution of charges or to accept a plea of guilty to a lesser charge.

Enduring feedback from victims of crime is that they felt let down and excluded from the justice process. They have also conveyed that we have a legal system and not a justice system and that this compounds their trauma. The Victims’ Charter Act requires that victims’ views are sought and that they are informed of decision-making; however, victims are often informed of these decisions after they are done and dusted and there is no provision for victims to seek any form of review.

Recommendation 10 of the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) report The Role of Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process recommended:

The Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (Vic) should be amended to:

(a) establish a right for victims to seek internal review of a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue a prosecution or to proceed with a guilty plea to lesser charges

(b) require the Director of Public Prosecutions, when informing the victim of these decisions, and the reasons for these decisions, to notify the victim of their right to seek internal review and the procedure for doing so.

The recently released report of the VLRC review into improving justice system responses to sexual offences noted that when Sarah was told the OPP would not be going to trial she was devastated:

I couldn’t believe this could happen after all the reassurances I had … It was like living my worst nightmare … It felt like they humored me by meeting with me but they had already made their decision … I felt betrayed by everyone …

Another victim-survivor said in response to news the charges against her offender had been bundled up for a sentence of a community correction order:

I felt very let down by the OPP.

She said she:

… felt that justice had not been served …

The Victims of Crime Commissioner supports a review system akin to the victims’ right to review schemes that are in place in the United Kingdom and Scotland. These recommendations are so important for victims as they deliver rights to them that they do not have now.

For most victims their case is their one chance. Their whole lives revolve around it. They endure lifelong trauma from the offending against them. The independent victims commissioner for London, Claire Waxman, described the United Kingdom’s right to review scheme as an important check and balance and as empowering for victims. Decisions might be reviewed and determined to be correct, to be reasonable, and this process can give reassurance to victims. Importantly a review of the process in Scotland, where a right to review scheme has been in place since 2015, identified that in 11 per cent of applications the original decision was overturned and proceedings raised. That is one in 10; that is a significant number.

My colleague Stuart Grimley has introduced two other amendments that improve rights for victims, including the requirement for a prosecuting agency to notify victims of their right to make a victim impact statement and the requirement notify to victims of their right to make a compensation or restitution order under the Sentencing Act 1991—more important rights for victims of crime.

I encourage members of the Legislative Council to consider these important recommendations of the VLRC and the victims of crime commissioner and deliver these important rights for victims of crime. I cannot imagine why anyone in this chamber would oppose these amendments that mean so much to victims of crime. I would like to also just insert a quote from our Premier made on social media on 18 February 2020. Mr Andrews said:

Victims should always be supported—no matter what.

Anything less simply isn’t enough.

I would like to ask if we could circulate my amendments.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendments circulated by Ms MAXWELL pursuant to standing orders.

Ms MAXWELL:

I would just like to give a little bit of a briefing and background in relation to these amendments. My amendment inserts a new requirement for the DPP to seek the views of victims before making a decision to agree to or oppose a sentence indication and requires the DPP to give a victim information about the matters taken into account in making a decision to oppose a sentence indication. The VLRC review of victims’ experiences in the criminal trial process found that victims who are dissatisfied with a decision by the DPP to discontinue a matter or proceed with a guilty plea to lesser charges does not have any right to have the decision reviewed by the DPP, and it recommended a structured process of internal review. The commission considered that decisions cannot be reviewed by any other government entity or the courts and that a structured, transparent process should be established for the internal review of decisions. The victims of crime commissioner supported a system of review. Such systems exist in other jurisdictions, as I stated earlier in my speech.

Broadly, this amendment has a similar purpose, which is to give more rights to victims of crime in the criminal justice process, as does the bill, by requiring the prosecuting agency to advise a victim of crime of their right to an internal review of decisions made relating to plea charges which affect sentencing indications. Victims of crime are the most directly impacted by crimes against the person. A common complaint of victims is that they feel let down and excluded from the justice process, that we have a legal system and not a justice system, as I indicated earlier.

I would like to just quickly give some examples. A person charged with 70 offences against the person linked to family violence has the charges plea-bargained into six consolidated charges. Through the appeals process the sentence is reduced to a community correction order. Victims deserve better than that. A person charged with murder for the death of his partner in an act of family violence has it downgraded to a driving offence. This substantially alters the sentence and parole conditions. The family is of the understanding that the charge may be downgraded through plea-bargaining to a charge of manslaughter but are completely blindsided by the plea-bargain that is ultimately negotiated. This offender receives a longer suspension of his drivers licence than he receives as a sentence of incarceration.

Victims who are dissatisfied with decision-making have no recourse, as I said before, to seek a review of a decision of the DPP. I would ask everyone to please give great consideration to this amendment. The outcome we want is to improve situations for victims of crime, something that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party fights strongly for each and every day. I commend this bill to the house.

Party seeks to cement victim rights in law

Media statement

February 8, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will move today to cement new victim rights in the Victims’ Charter Act that were recommended in a 2016 Victorian Law Reform Commission report.

State leader Stuart Grimley (Western Victoria) and Tania Maxwell (Northern Victoria) will propose three amendments to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021 that would change the Victims’ Charter Act 2006.

The first of these would require the Office of Public Prosecutions to notify crime victims of their right to make a victim impact statement at an offender’s sentencing.

The second would compel investigatory agencies and the OPP to inform victims of their right to seek compensation or restitution from a convicted offender, and to refer victims to available legal assistance.

The third would enable victims to seek a review of decisions by the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue prosecution, or proceed with a guilty plea to a lesser charge for an offender (plea-bargain), and require victims to be notified of this right.

“Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party recognises that the current government has been reforming some aspects of Victoria’s criminal justice law,” Mr Grimley said.

“But the government has left behind some key recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s 2016 report into ‘The role of victims of crime in the criminal trial process’ that would favour victims.

“Almost six years on, it’s time to stop talking about change, make it, and empower victims of crime.

“DHJP has seen time and again where victims are not advised of their right to make a victim impact statement ahead of sentencing. This is usually the only opportunity for them to participate formally in the criminal justice process, and it can be traumatic if they’re denied it.

“We also know that few victims are actually notified of their right to claim compensation for physical and mental injury, theft, property loss, and damage and destruction.

“The current law requires them to make a claim for compensation for mental or physical injuries within 12 months of a guilty verdict, so they need to act quickly. But you can’t act on something you don’t know about.”

Ms Maxwell said the VLRC also recommended establishing a right for victims to challenge a decision by the DPP to drop a prosecution or to plea-bargain.

“The amendment we’re putting forward would require the DPP to inform a victim of the reason for these decisions, the victim’s right to seek an internal review, and the details of how the review process works,” she said.

“A similar scheme operates in Britain where, when challenged, 11 per cent of decisions to discontinue prosecution or plea-bargain charges such as sexual assault were subsequently proved in court.”

The Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021 is scheduled for debate in the Legislative Council on Tuesday, February 8.