2. The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT)

  1. 2.1 Before turning to a consideration of the issue of family violence under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) (the Act), this chapter provides an introduction to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT).
  2. 2.2 VOCAT is the key body to which the terms of reference relate, as it determines all applications for financial assistance made under the Act.
  3. 2.3 This chapter gives an overview of the structure, procedure and processes of VOCAT, as well as the demand for its services.

The structure of VOCAT

  1. 2.4 VOCAT is established by the Act to hear and determine applications for financial assistance made by victims of crime.1
  2. 2.5 VOCAT consists of tribunal members, who are magistrates. It comprises the Chief Magistrate and all magistrates and reserve magistrates under the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic).2 Each VOCAT hearing is constituted by a single tribunal member.3
  3. 2.6 Although located within the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, VOCAT is a separate entity with its own jurisdiction. A diagram showing how VOCAT fits with the other jurisdictions of the Magistrates’ Court is set out at Appendix A.
  4. 2.7 In addition, the Chief Magistrate has delegated tribunal powers to 10 judicial registrars
    to determine certain types of application, including interim awards of financial assistance.4 In 2015–16, judicial registrars determined almost 22 per cent of final awards.5
  5. 2.8 The Chief Magistrate appoints supervising magistrates to support the operation of VOCAT. Supervising magistrates encourage best practice across VOCAT and
    represent VOCAT in its dealings with other members of the judiciary, staff and community.6
  6. 2.9 VOCAT operates in all 51 Magistrates’ Court venues across Victoria.7

Specialisation within the VOCAT structure

  1. 2.10 In 2006, VOCAT established a specialist Koori List which is now a permanent part of VOCAT operations. The list was created to ensure that the purposes and objectives of
    the Act could be achieved for Koori applicants.8
  2. 2.11 The Koori List does not apply any different legal considerations. All determinations are made within the framework of the Act. However, the list enables VOCAT to be more responsive to the circumstances of Koori victims of crime.9
  3. 2.12 VOCAT has stated that key to the success of the Koori List is the procedural flexibility and informality available under the Act which enable the Tribunal to respond flexibly to applicants’ circumstances.10 This may involve sitting at a table to hear participants, rather than at the bench, adopting a more informal approach and receiving culturally specific information from community representatives.11
  4. 2.13 Furthermore, while VOCAT itself does not have a specialist family violence list, magistrates who sit in the Family Violence Court Division are able to hear and determine VOCAT applications in conjunction with other civil or criminal family violence matters.12 In dealing with a VOCAT application, the Family Violence Court Division has the same functions, powers and duties as VOCAT.13
  5. 2.14 The Family Violence Court Division is a separate division of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.14 The Family Violence Court Division is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.

The procedure and process of VOCAT

  1. 2.15 VOCAT is not a court. VOCAT hearings are less formal than court hearings15 and VOCAT is not bound by the rules of evidence.16
  2. 2.16 VOCAT’s procedure, however, remains a legal process, which is bound by the provisions of the Act.17
  3. 2.17 In deciding applications for financial assistance made by victims of crime, VOCAT has a duty to act fairly, expeditiously (promptly) and according to the merits of the case.18
  4. 2.18 In addition, VOCAT must give a party to the matter a reasonable opportunity to call or give evidence, examine, cross-examine or re-examine witnesses and to make submissions.19
  5. 2.19 VOCAT has the power to issue a warrant for arrest against a witness who has been served with a summons to attend a VOCAT hearing and who has failed to do so.20
  6. 2.20 VOCAT also has broad investigative powers to make any enquiry and order any document or report that it requires.21
  7. 2.21 The diagram below shows the process of VOCAT and how it may be accessed by victims of family violence.

 [View pdf pages 12-13 for diagram]

VOCAT demand

  1. 2.22 In its submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Magistrates’ Court stated there had been a 337 per cent increase in VOCAT’s caseload between
    2001–02 and 2013–14.22
  2. 2.23 In 2015–16 there were 6221 applications to VOCAT, representing an increase of 2.8 per cent from 2014–15.23 In 2015-16, there were 4161 awards of financial assistance made.24 This is a decrease of 6.7 per cent from the previous financial year.
  3. 2.24 The average amount of financial assistance awarded by VOCAT in 2015–16 was $7784.25

Footnotes

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