10. Timeliness of awards made by VOCAT

Introduction

  1. 10.1 This chapter considers the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) application and evidentiary requirements, the process for decision making and time frame for decision making. These requirements and processes all impact on the timeliness of an award.
  2. 10.2 This chapter relates to issues raised in the first, third and eighth matters in the supplementary terms of reference which concern whether:
  • the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) (the Act) can be simplified to make it easier for applicants to understand all their potential entitlements and quickly and easily access the assistance offered by the scheme without necessarily requiring legal support
  • the tests for eligibility for assistance and the evidence required to meet those tests can be simplified to avoid unnecessary or disproportionate costs being incurred
  • any processes, procedures or requirements under the Act cause unnecessary delay to the provision of assistance to victims of crime, having regard to other models that would more effectively deliver assistance, for example an administrative or quasi administrative model.
  1. 10.3 Questions posed in this chapter relate to whether the current processes and procedures are clear, simple and working as intended, and to whether the processes and procedures remain appropriate.

VOCAT application requirements

  1. 10.4 VOCAT applications commence by way of a written application in the prescribed form,1 accompanied by documentary evidence.2 (See Appendix C).
  2. 10.5 If the applicant has not reported the act of violence to the police, the form must be accompanied by a statutory declaration by the applicant setting out the circumstances of the act of violence and the reasons the matter was not reported.3

The VOCAT application form

  1. 10.6 The form has 12 parts:
  2. 1) details of the applicant
  3. 2) section to be completed if the claim is being made on behalf of a child or a person with disability
  4. 3) the circumstances of the act of violence, including the perpetrator’s name if known
  5. 4) details of any reporting to police, including station, police officer, rank and date, and whether criminal proceedings have commenced against the perpetrator
  6. 5) the effects resulting from the act of violence, including any physical and psychological effects, as well as whether the applicant has experienced grief, stress or trauma. The form also asks whether the applicant attended hospital.
  7. 6) whether the applicant would prefer to have the matter resolved ‘on the papers’ or if they would like a hearing before VOCAT. If the applicant wishes to have a hearing, they can ask for the proceedings to be conducted in closed court.
  8. 7) whether the applicant has applied for assistance under any other schemes, including the Victims Assistance Program, Workcover, the Transport Accident Commission, as well as any benefits the applicant has received or is entitled to receive under a superannuation or insurance scheme
  9. 8) the type of assistance that the applicant wishes to claim from VOCAT, including expenses incurred, expenses to assist in recovery and special financial assistance. The applicant must indicate whether they are applying as a primary, secondary or related victim, or whether they are claiming funeral expenses only.
  10. 9) if a death was caused by the act of violence, the applicant must also give details of the deceased
  11. 10) if the applicant is a related victim, they must list every person who they believe may be or may claim to be a related victim, and they can also apply for assistance with funeral expenses
  12. 11) the applicant’s authorisation for VOCAT to obtain any other evidence necessary
  13. 12) an acknowledgment by the applicant that all information provided is true and correct.
  14. 10.7 An application for assistance and the supporting documentation can be lodged in hard copy or online via the VOCAT website.4
  15. 10.8 Hard-copy applications for assistance must be lodged with or posted to the VOCAT venue closest to the applicant’s place of residence.5 However, if there are multiple applicants in respect of one act of violence, it must be the venue closest to where the act of violence was committed.6 If the Chief Magistrate nominates a venue, then the application should be lodged at that venue.7
  16. 10.9 A hard-copy application must lodged with the Registrar at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court if the applicant resides outside Victoria, is a related victim, or is a primary or secondary victim who is aware of the existence of a related victim.8
  17. 10.10 If an applicant applies online, their application will automatically be lodged with the correct venue.9
  18. 10.11 The VOCAT website provides information for applicants about:
  • how to lodge an application
  • the different victim categories under which they can apply
  • the details required in relation to the act(s) of violence
  • the police reporting and the injury suffered
  • the required supporting documentation
  • how the VOCAT process works.10
  1. 10.12 The online application page also gives details of services that can help an applicant to complete the form, including the contact number for the Victims of Crime Helpline.11
  2. 10.13 There is no fee for filing an application for assistance, whether it is done online or in hard copy.12 In addition, a lawyer cannot charge an applicant costs in respect of an application, unless those costs are approved by VOCAT.13

Supporting documentation and evidentiary requirements

  1. 10.14 Once an application is received, VOCAT writes to the applicant or their lawyer acknowledging receipt of the application and seeking further evidence, including:
  • a report from the applicant’s treating doctor if physical injury is claimed
  • receipts or invoices for the expenses claimed
  • a copy of the applicant’s police statement
  • copies of any intervention orders
  • a report from the counsellor if the applicant is seeking counselling
  • information about Medicare rebates.14
  1. 10.15 Table 4 outlines the supporting documentation VOCAT considers should be filed in relation to each type of expense claimed, in addition to the completed statement of claim form.15
  2. 10.16 The effect of this requirement is that where victims wish to apply for different types of assistance they need to file a number of different supporting documents as listed in the second column of Table 4.

Table 4: Documentation to be filed with VOCAT in support of application

Assistance claimed

Documents to be filed in support of claim

Special financial assistance

Application should include evidence that the applicant has experienced or is suffering a significant adverse effect (eg medical/psychological report) (evidence may be given at a hearing). 

Counselling expenses

Application should include:

  • a completed Application for Counselling form
  • a relevant Counsellor’s Report and a Counselling and Report Fee Invoice.

Medical expenses

Application should include a report from a medical practitioner/dentist linking the treatment provided/proposed to the injury sustained by the applicant (the report should detail the proposed treatment plan), receipts, invoices or quotes substantiating the expense claimed (may also include ambulance expenses).

Safety-related expenses (primary victims only)

Application should include receipts, invoices or quotes substantiating the safety-related expense(s) claimed (eg an invoice from home security company, locksmith etc)

Other expenses to assist recovery

Application should include receipts, invoices or quotes substantiating the other expenses claimed (eg an invoice from the home security company, locksmith etc, or a quote if the expense has not yet been incurred).

Clothing worn at time of act of violence

Application should include:

  • invoices, receipts or quotes for the cost of replacing the clothing
  • a statutory declaration detailing the cost of the clothing lost or damaged (value of replacement clothing must be equivalent to the value of damaged clothes).

Loss of earnings

Application should include:

  • a completed Loss of Earnings Claim form 
  • advice in writing detailing number of days/weeks absent from work, reason for period of absence, and gross loss of earnings (including how gross loss was calculated)
  • medical report/certificate linking the applicant’s total or partial incapacity to work to their injury 
  • documentation verifying WorkCover payments, Transport Accident Commission payments, Social Security payments, any other payments (if any) received by the applicant for their injury
  • if applicant is self-employed, tax returns for the three financial years before the act of violence occurred and the financial years for the loss of earnings claim period.

Funeral expenses

Application should include a receipt, invoice or quote from the funeral service substantiating the expense claimed. 

Distress

Application should include:

  • evidence of the applicant’s relationship to the deceased primary victim
  • evidence that the applicant has suffered grief, distress or trauma as a direct result of the deceased primary victim’s death (evidence may be given at a hearing). 

Dependency claims

Application should include (related victims only):

  • a completed Dependency Claim form 
  • details of gross pre-death earnings of the deceased (including how earnings were calculated) 
  • documentation verifying WorkCover payments, Transport Accident Commission payments, Social Security payments, any other payments (if any) received by the applicant/deceased’s estate 
  • tax returns of the applicant/deceased for the three financial years before the death of the primary victim and the financial years for the dependency claim period 
  • details of the assets and liabilities of the applicant and the estate of the deceased 
    details of the financial contributions made by the deceased primary victim to the applicant for the three financial years immediately before the death of the primary victim
  • verification of the relationship between the applicant and the deceased (eg spouse, child).

Solicitor’s costs

Applicant must complete the ‘Amounts Payable to Solicitor’ section of Statement of Claim form.

Solicitor’s disbursements

Application should include receipts and invoices for solicitors disbursements claimed.

 

 

  1. 10.17 Claims for medical expenses, counselling costs and loss of earnings must generally be supported by medical and/or psychological reports. While the Act does not explicitly require applicants to lodge a medical report, it does require an application to be accompanied by documentary evidence as indicated in the form.16
  2. 10.18 VOCAT’s Guide to Completing the Application for Assistance Form states that a medical or psychological report should be filed with VOCAT if the effects of the act of violence are of a physical or psychological nature.17 VOCAT also states on its website that past medical expenses need to be substantiated by medical bills and invoices, while future medical costs require reports from a doctor, dentist, surgeon or other provider.18
  3. 10.19 In order to make an application for counselling expenses, applicants must complete an application for counselling form,19 which they submit with an application for assistance form. This form must be accompanied by a counsellor’s report.20
  4. 10.20 VOCAT requests that all such supporting documentation be provided within four months. The applicant must notify VOCAT in writing within this time that the application is ready to proceed or the application may be struck out.21 
  5. 10.21 The Whittlesea Community Legal Service has previously stated that four months may not be long enough for applicants to compile and lodge all supporting evidence.22 In the case of medical and counselling expenses, this is often because ‘it may be difficult for an applicant to get appointments with medical practitioners or psychologists/psychiatrists who can provide appropriate supporting documentation to the Tribunal’.23
  6. 10.22 If the applicant needs more than four months, she or he must make a written request to VOCAT outlining what material is still outstanding and how much time they require to obtain it. VOCAT can then extend the period within which all material must be filed.24 
  7. 10.23 During preliminary consultations the Commission was informed that VOCAT frequently requests further documentation, particularly where the alleged perpetrator has not been charged or convicted, or there is little corroborating evidence. The Commission was also told that VOCAT often seeks information from Victoria Police to help determine whether a crime occurred, as well as the criminal history of the alleged offender and the victim. It also seeks information about a victim’s injuries via medical records or from Victoria Police.25
  8. 10.24 The Justice Legislation Further Amendment Act 2016 (Vic) amended the Act, removing the requirement for an applicant to verify their application form by way of statutory declaration. It is sufficient now for an application form to be verified by way of acknowledgment. This change makes it easier for applicants and legal practitioners to file an application electronically.  

The decision-making process

  1. 10.25 In addition to the documentation and evidentiary requirements, VOCAT also has broad investigative powers under the Act to:
  • authorise a person to make any enquiry or carry out any investigation on behalf of VOCAT that is needed to furnish it with the further information it requires
  • order the preparation and submission to VOCAT of a medical report or counselling report
  • order an applicant to lodge, within a specified period, an additional statement containing particulars of matters specified in the order or any documents specified in the order.26
  1. 10.26 After receiving documentation from the applicant and other relevant parties, a directions hearing may be required to provide VOCAT with guidance about matters relevant to the application. It is more common to request an applicant’s lawyer to attend a directions hearing than the applicant.27
  2. 10.27 VOCAT may determine an application without conducting a directions hearing or a final hearing. This depends on the preference of the applicant as well as VOCAT’s need for a hearing.28 This is discussed further below in Chapter 11.
  3. 10.28 Once VOCAT has all the information it requires to make a decision, it advises the applicant whether a hearing will be held. As discussed below in Chapter 11, matters that proceed to a hearing are usually those where a victim has asked for the application to be determined by a hearing, or where VOCAT considers that the matters are complex and require the giving of evidence and oral submissions by lawyers. Around 25 per cent of VOCAT matters are determined at hearings.29
  4. 10.29 In practice, many straightforward applications are decided without a hearing.30 However, as stated above, are usually determined at a hearing.

The time frame for decision making

  1. 10.30 VOCAT must act ‘expeditiously’ (that is, promptly) to determine applications. Under the Act, VOCAT has a duty to act fairly, according to the substantial merits of the case and as promptly as the requirements of the Act and a proper determination of the matter permit.31
  2. 10.31 However, VOCAT must also have regard to matters that can sometimes affect the time it takes to finalise an application, including:
  • awaiting the outcome of a criminal investigation, trial or inquest
  • the need for further enquiries to be made by VOCAT
  • the need to notify the alleged offender about the application and give him or her reasonable time to respond
  • waiting for an injury to stabilise so that an accurate prognosis can be provided to VOCAT
  • requiring additional time to identify and communicate with all related victims of a deceased primary victim to advise them of their right to apply for financial assistance.32
  1. 10.32 The Act specifically enables VOCAT to make awards even where there might be related civil or Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) matters that have not yet been finalised. Under section 32(3) of the Act, VOCAT is not prevented from hearing and determining an application only because there is a civil proceeding, or a proceeding pending under subdivision (1) of division 2 of part 4 of the Sentencing Act.33
  2. 10.33 This means that VOCAT can still decide an application, even if there is a pending civil trial, or if a court is going to decide a matter concerning compensation or restitution under the Sentencing Act.
  3. 10.34 However, under section 41 of the Act, VOCAT can adjourn consideration of an application if there is a criminal trial or a civil trial that is related to that act of violence that is likely to be decided within six months.34
  4. 10.35 The effect of sections 32 and 41 of the Act is that in practice, a VOCAT application will generally be adjourned until related matters in the civil and criminal courts have been decided.
  5. 10.36 During preliminary consultations the Commission was told that where there are criminal proceedings pending, it is almost always the practice of VOCAT to order an adjournment.35 In fact, applicants are advised when making an application that VOCAT may wait until criminal charges are finalised before determining their matter.36
  6. 10.37 Where a hearing is requested or required, it usually occurs within six weeks of a VOCAT member deciding to conduct it or, if requested by the applicant, within six to 10 weeks of the applicant filing all supporting material.37

Interim awards

  1. 10.38 As noted in Chapter 6, section 56 of the Act empowers VOCAT to make an interim award of assistance pending the final determination of an application.
  2. 10.39 Applicants who need urgent assistance, such as financial assistance for safety-related expenses, can seek an interim award.38 This award can often be paid before VOCAT makes a final determination.
  3. 10.40 Interim awards form part of the total financial assistance available for expenses incurred, or likely to be incurred, up to the statutory limit of $60,000, and must be deducted from the total amount of any assistance awarded.39

Discussion and options for reform

  1. 10.41 This section discusses the effects of the application requirements, the decision-making process and the time frame for decision making. It sets out options for reform to address concerns that these requirements and processes are not meeting victims’ needs and are affecting the timeliness of awards.
  2. 10.42 The Commission seeks the views of victims, persons affected, professionals, stakeholders and the community on whether the application requirements and decision-making process should be reformed. Possible options for reform and questions are set out below.

 

Are victims receiving timely assistance?

  1. 10.43 In June 2017, the Victorian Community Safety Trustee released an interim report on the implementation of the Victorian Government’s Community Safety Statement. In that report, delays in relation to VOCAT applications were noted:

Currently, on average, it takes around nine months to finalise an application and some matters span more than two years. If the approach is ‘victims first’, then the current process warrants review in the interests of quick resolution for victims.40

  1. 10.44 Victims Support Agency research in 2011 found at least two cases of sexual assault victims waiting for around 12 months for a VOCAT award for further counselling. It is unclear whether these victims had attempted to obtain interim awards or knew they were available.41
  2. 10.45 New South Wales research into the effective provision of financial assistance has found that the vast majority of victims who require financial assistance for practical purposes need it within three months of the crime.42 However, the majority of VOCAT applications are finalised within 12 months.43
  3. 10.46 VOCAT has implemented initiatives to improve timeliness, including an online application form and an electronic case management system.44 The use of judicial registrars is designed to save time by reserving the use of magistrates for more complex matters. According to VOCAT’s Annual Report 2015–16, close to 50 per cent of all VOCAT applications are finalised within nine months.45
  4. 10.47 Despite these initiatives, VOCAT has observed an increase in the complexity of applications, particularly relating to family violence.46 In the 2015–16 reporting period, there was a 12 per cent increase from the previous financial year in the number of matters proceeding to hearing rather than being determined ‘on the papers’.47
  5. 10.48 This supports VOCAT’s observation of an increase in complexity of the applications brought before it, as hearings are more likely to be required when matters are complex. A consequence of this is that the number of pending applications has also increased because of ‘challenges in keeping pace with the increased number of applications’.48
  6. 10.49 Interim data analysis conducted by the Commission and discussed further in Chapter 12 indicates that there may also be significant unmet demand for financial assistance under the Act by victims of crimes against the person, in addition to victims of family violence.49 If more victims were to apply to VOCAT, it is highly likely that timeliness would be further affected. This is particularly true if new classes of victim are able to access the scheme, as discussed in Chapter 5 of this paper.
  7. 10.50 During preliminary consultations the Commission was told that increased complexity affects VOCAT’s timeliness because more information is required. The perpetrator may need to be notified and a directions hearing may be required. VOCAT may need more documentation, some of which may have to be sought through Freedom of Information requests or through other administrative or bureaucratic systems, such as hospital administration. VOCAT may also ultimately decide a hearing is necessary to determine the matter, which is more resource-intensive. Stakeholders told the Commission these circumstances are frequently encountered for victims of family violence, sexual assault and other matters that may be complex due to multiple acts of violence or where the violence is perpetrated over time.
  8. 10.51 Legal practitioners consulted for Whittlesea Community Legal Service’s Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal Capacity Building Project in 2011 said that obtaining relevant supporting documentation was one of the principal difficulties of running a VOCAT case. Difficulties in obtaining documentation from medical practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors were the primary reason for delays and cost increases in preparing VOCAT matters.50
  9. 10.52 The reliance on documentation from medical practitioners and psychologists also increases the scheme’s vulnerability to a VOCAT ‘industry’ developing around the compensation process. In preliminary consultations the Commission was told that there was an increasing number of medical professionals and counselling services that specialise in VOCAT, sometimes to the detriment of victims who do not receive high quality services. During preliminary consultations, the Commission was also told that the reliance on lawyers can leave both victims and the VOCAT process potentially vulnerable to exploitative practices whereby lawyers could charge VOCAT for services not actually delivered.
  10. 10.53 For example, in some cases psychologists who specialise in victim compensation have been found to use practices that exploit crime victims and VOCAT. These include fraudulent claims for expenses for counselling services to VOCAT,51 and exploitative or insensitive practices with victims.52
  11. 10.54 The Commission is not aware of whether interim awards are ‘fast tracked’, or are subject to the same payment process and time frame. However, the Commission notes concerns raised with the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence that even interim awards experience delays.53 The Royal Commission into Family Violence was told that although family violence services operating in some magistrates’ courts have adopted procedures to make interim awards for urgent expenses related to security, relocation or medical bills, the administrative processes still result in payments taking a number of weeks, limiting their usefulness.54
  12. 10.55 Preliminary consultations conducted by the Commission also indicated that the interim award process was not producing timely responses for many victims of family violence. Some stakeholders stated that where family violence circumstances are urgent, they no longer seek assistance through VOCAT, as such delays affect client safety and do not assist with time-sensitive matters such as security or relocation.
  13. 10.56 One of the objectives of the Act is to assist victims of crime to recover from the effects of violent crime. However, delays in accessing financial assistance can potentially re-traumatise victims and in some cases, further entrench economic disadvantage when victims are most vulnerable. The onerous documentation and evidentiary requirements are also potential sources of re-traumatisation. For example, the review of New South Wales’ compensation scheme in 2012 found that early provision of financial assistance can assist victims to begin their healing process earlier.55 The reviewers were consistently told that assisting victims at the earliest point after the act of violence delivers the best outcomes.56 The waiting time in New South Wales of just over two years from date of lodgement to determination was found to be making victims’ distress worse.57
  14. 10.57 In the first consultation paper, options were considered to improve the timeliness of awards in relation to the specific needs of victims of family violence.58 However, many of these are relevant to other classes of victim, as they concern ways to improve the operation of Victoria’s financial assistance scheme more broadly.
  15. 10.58 Options to address concerns about timely assistance are set out below, along with specific questions for consideration.

Application triaging and ‘co-location’

  1. 10.59 As discussed in the first consultation paper, one option to improve the timeliness of assistance is to implement an administrative triage function in the VOCAT registry to assess and prioritise all VOCAT applications.59
  2. 10.60 This would require additional funding and a specialist coordination team, with appropriate expertise in assessing victim needs in the immediate, short and longer term. This is likely to require a more intensive case management approach, similar to the approach taken by the Koori VOCAT list, providing linkages and referrals to other specialist services, including the Victims Support Agency, Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs) and specialist family violence services.
  3. 10.61 Triaging all applications in this way might create more capacity to meet victims’ immediate needs—either by way of VOCAT’s interim award process or through appropriate referral to other support systems. However, such a triaging function would be more resource-intensive, as it involves case management and more specialised victim support.
  4. 10.62 An alternative approach might involve co-locating staff from the Victims Assistance Programs (VAP) as support coordinators within VOCAT. In addition to assisting with triaging functions, they could provide in-person support to victims of crime as well as facilitating case management and referral activities. Co-location of VAPs is currently used by Victoria Police across a number of police stations to enable earlier assistance for victims.

Practice Direction to expedite decision making

  1. 10.63 Preliminary consultations indicated that VOCAT awards are almost always delayed pending finalisation of related criminal matters. Research by Whittlesea Community Legal Service in 2011 similarly found that VOCAT will delay the final hearing until the outcome of the criminal matter is known—citing this as one of the major causes of delay.60
  2. 10.64 To address this issue, one option is for VOCAT to develop a Practice Direction, consistent with sections 32 and 41 of the Act, which provides more guidance about expediting a VOCAT application when certain criteria are met.

 

 

Question

  1. 42 Is there a need to amend section 32(3) and section 41 of the Act to clarify the need for speedy determinations? Alternatively, would an appropriate Practice Direction provide sufficient guidance?

 

Specialist streams or specialist decision makers

  1. 10.65 Another option is to create separate VOCAT streams or lists, following a similar approach to the VOCAT Koori List.
  2. 10.66 Like the VOCAT Koori List, this option could adopt a case management approach appropriate to crime type, such as family violence or sexual assault, and triage urgent matters more effectively in a specialist environment. VOCAT’s intention in establishing its Koori List was to ensure that the purposes and objectives of the Act could be achieved in relation to a specific cohort of VOCAT applicants. VOCAT relied on the procedural flexibility and the informality afforded to it to respond with maximum flexibility to the particular circumstances of a Koori applicant.61 The Koori List does not involve applying any different legal considerations to the determination of applications for assistance. All applications are considered and determined within the legislative framework. However, its Koori List enables VOCAT to be more responsive to the circumstances of Koori victims of crime, who may otherwise have found it difficult to engage with the system.62
  3. 10.67 Similar specialisation for other classes of victim could bring benefits of increased collective knowledge and expertise in specific kinds of VOCAT matters. It would ensure VOCAT members dealing with the complexity of certain matters such as historical childhood sexual assault, family violence or sexual assault were familiar with the needs and experiences of victims. In the case of family violence, they would be familiar with the cycles and patterns of violence and the hurdles experienced by such victims in reporting to police. In the case of childhood sexual assault, the VOCAT member would be familiar with the long-term effects of such crimes, and the reasons a victim might not identify the abuse until later in life.
  4. 10.68 Specialised lists might also result in swifter final determinations and might limit delays, since VOCAT members would become familiar with the challenges posed by some categories of victim, such as applicants who submit outside the two-year time limit. The experience of the VOCAT Koori List was that specialisation increased cultural awareness and sensitivity to Koori issues.
  5. 10.69 The Department of Justice and Regulation previously envisaged VOCAT’s capacity to adapt to the specific needs of certain victims of crime when it proposed VOCAT be extended to deliver a state-based redress scheme for victims of childhood sexual abuse in institutional settings.63
  6. 10.70 A complementary or alternative option is to appoint VOCAT-only magistrates, given the increased complexity in matters coming before VOCAT.64 This would increase specialisation across all VOCAT matters but would not require the infrastructure of specialist lists or streams. The courts have previously highlighted the benefits of specially trained and assigned magistrates in the management of family violence matters.65 In this context, Ian Freckelton has observed that victim compensation schemes are complex and should be recognised as specialised areas of practice.66

Question

  1. 43 What benefits would be achieved for victims if initiatives such as triaging, co-location or specialist streams were introduced?

 

An administrative model

  1. 10.71 As an alternative, consideration could be given to adopting an administrative model where commissioners or government assessors make determinations, such as in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.67
  2. 10.72 Part of the efficiencies generated by the administrative schemes, like that in New South Wales, arise from removing some of the administrative burden on victims of having to provide supporting documentation. The guide to victim support in New South Wales states: ‘a support coordinator will assist with your claim. Victims Services will obtain police reports and court papers where available, and we can also obtain clinical notes, with your consent, from medical practitioners you have seen for your injuries.’68
  3. 10.73 However, in assessing any such alternatives, it is important to consider whether these schemes provide the same victim experience in terms of judicial validation and acknowledgment. These issues are discussed further in Part Three of this paper.

Question

  1. 44 As an alternative approach, should an administrative model be adopted? If yes, what benefits would be achieved for victims through the adoption of an administrative model? How would this work in practice? What would be the disadvantages of an administrative model?

 

Hearing VOCAT matters during other civil and criminal hearings

  1. 10.74 Magistrates in the Family Violence Court Division have the ability to determine VOCAT matters at the same time as dealing with other civil or criminal family violence matters.69
  2. 10.75 Another option could be to extend this power to all magistrates, regardless of whether it is a specialist court location. This would enable a magistrate hearing a family violence intervention order matter or a criminal matter where a victim has clearly been a victim of an act of violence to make an interim VOCAT award to support the recovery of the victim. As the Act already enables awards to be varied and refunded,70 there is scope for further consideration should new information come to light or the victim’s circumstances change.
  3. 10.76 However, such an approach would represent a shift away from the Court’s use of specialisation as a way to expedite the making of awards and decrease complexity.

Question

  1. 45 What benefits would be achieved by enabling all magistrates to make interim VOCAT awards at the same time as hearing other matters? How would this work in practice? Would there be disadvantages?

 

Evidentiary requirements for counselling and medical expenses

  1. 10.77 As well as contributing to delays and being an additional administrative burden for victims, there are significant costs associated with obtaining medical reports. The costs affect victims wishing to make an application for financial assistance, and VOCAT, which usually reimburses the costs of medical and psychological reports.
  2. 10.78 One option for reform is to broaden the types of documentary evidence that a victim can provide in support of a claim for expenses. This would enable victims to lodge reports from support services other than medical professionals or psychologists.
  3. 10.79 Following a recommendation from its review of victims of crime financial assistance legislation,71 Queensland has removed the requirement for applicants to provide a medical certificate for an expense, loss of earnings or other component of assistance in relation to an injury.72 The Queensland scheme now specifies that an application for assistance must ‘be accompanied by documents supporting the application’.73
  4. 10.80 Additionally or alternatively, VOCAT could offer greater assistance to applicants with regard to obtaining medical or psychological reports.
  5. 10.81 VOCAT currently states on its website that it will only be able to access medical records on an applicant’s behalf if she or he attended a public hospital.74 The applicant must obtain reports from all other doctors, dentists, surgeons and other providers on their own.75 In contrast, as mentioned above, the New South Wales scheme assists victims with administrative requirements.76
  6. 10.82 VOCAT could adopt a similar practice to New South Wales by providing assistance in obtaining reports.

Questions

  1. 46 Should applicants be able to support their applications with documentary evidence other than medical and psychological reports? If so, what other documentation should applicants be able to provide?
  2. 47 Should more assistance be provided by VOCAT to help victims satisfy the evidentiary requirements?

 

 

 

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