Have Victims Of Crime Got A Better Deal Now?
No one asks to be the victim of an act of violence. It can be both traumatic and financially crippling, with medical bills and time off work for recovery.
If you suffer injury as a result of an act of violence, like an assault by a drunk at the pub, you may be able to access the Victims Compensation Fund. Its a pool of money that pays out victims depending on the seriousness of their injuries. But you have to meet a certain injury threshold to get a pay-out.
The minimum threshold is $7,500 and the maximum $50,000. The Schedule of Compensable Injuries lists a whole heap of injuries, prescribing a certain amount for each. For example, loss of sight in both eyes will get you $50,000. But minor scarring to the face is only worth $3,600 – meaning if this was your most serious injury you wouldnt reach the minimum threshold, so youd get nothing.
Alternatively, theres the Victims Assistance Scheme (VAS) which pays up to $1,500.
The legislation for victims of crime changed in January, with the aim of helping victims.
One positive change relates to VAS. The list of expenses that victims can claim for has been expanded. It now includes all actual expenses incurred, such as doctors appointments or medical aids (eg. dentures). And the minimum limit for a payout is now $200. (Previously some expenses had a $500 minimum). VAS wont cover lost earnings though.
The number of counselling hours that victims can initially receive has increased to ten (provided the Counsellor completes a report after two hours to show further time is needed).
And the Victims Rights Act now states that victims must be entitled to certain rights (replacing should), such as being treated with dignity, having the right to complain, and being kept informed about police investigations.
But there has been some criticism around the change to related acts. Now, for victims who have suffered multiple violent acts by the same person over time, or different acts committed at approximately the same time, its treated as one claim only. That means a maximum payout of $50,000, instead of separate claims that could yield more money.
And the pay for lawyers who handle Victims Compensation matters has been reduced. Theyll now get half what they did before for handling an appeal (the process to try to get a decision overturned if the initial application was unsuccessful).
In reality, this could translate to some lawyers being wary about pursuing appeals, particularly for complicated matters requiring hours of work. Meaning victims might have less access to justice than they did before.
Ultimately, and sadly, its still a rough road for victims of violent crimes.