Overview

The Department of Justice and Community Safety (the department) is conducting a review (the review) into changes to improve the experience of victims participating in summary criminal proceedings. This review is required under the Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (Victims’ Charter).

We're looking to hear from:

  • victims who have experienced summary criminal proceedings in the Magistrates’ or Children’s Courts
  • people who have experience or knowledge of proceedings they think could be relevant to victims in summary criminal proceedings.

We use the term “summary criminal proceedings” to mean proceedings for summary offences and indictable offences triable summarily in the lower courts (the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts).

Criminal offences are either:

  • summary offences
  • indictable offences
  • indictable offences triable summarily.

Summary offences have a lower maximum penalty and are determined by a magistrate in the lower courts (Magistrates’ Court and Children’s Court) without a jury.

Indictable offences have a higher maximum penalty and are usually determined by a judge and a jury in the higher courts (County Court and Supreme Court).

Indictable offences triable summarily are types of indictable offences that are considered to be less serious and can be determined by a magistrate in the lower courts without a jury.

Examples of offences in summary criminal proceedings include some assault offences, less serious driving offences, and lower level property offences, like wilful damage to property.

The vast majority of criminal cases are heard in the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts, so most victims who have their matter heard in a court will experience summary criminal proceedings. It also means that proceedings must be dealt with efficiently. Delays can negatively impact victim recovery and prevent offenders from being held to account in a timely manner. Summary criminal proceedings are also generally faster than indictable criminal proceedings that are heard in the higher courts (County Court and Supreme Court).

Scope of the review

The review focuses on three issues:

  • victim involvement in decisions made by prosecutors (such as decisions to modify, continue or discontinue charges, or to accept a guilty plea)
  • victim participation in court processes (including victim impact statements and sentence indications)
  • support services for victims in the lower courts.

These issues have been recognised as being important and likely to result in the highest impact improvements for the largest number of victims.

Prosecutors are responsible for running criminal matters for the State. They present evidence and legal arguments in court to prove that someone is guilty of a criminal offence.

Prosecutors make a range of decisions that can significantly impact how victims experience criminal proceedings that they are involved in, including choosing which charges to prosecute.

The Office of Public Prosecutions, which prosecutes cases primarily in the higher courts, has obligations under the Victims’ Charter to:

  • seek victims’ views before making decisions to substantially modify any charges, discontinue prosecuting any charges, accept a guilty plea to a lesser charge or appeal a sentence or acquittal
  • give victims reasons for decisions to substantially modify any charges, discontinue prosecuting any charges or accept a guilty plea to a lesser charge.

These specific obligations do not apply to police prosecutors involved in fast pace, high volume summary criminal proceedings, meaning that victims’ views may not be sought before decisions are made regarding a case, and victims may not be fully informed about the reasons for particular decisions.

The desire for victims’ views to be sought needs to be balanced against the benefits of the fast and efficient resolution of matters in summary criminal proceedings.

The review focuses on opportunities to improve victims’ experiences of:

  • preparing a victim impact statement
  • the sentence indication process.

A victim impact statement helps the court understand the impact of a crime on the victim. By providing a victim impact statement to the court, victims can tell the court how a crime has affected them physically, emotionally, financially, and socially. The victim impact statement is one of the factors that helps the court decide the appropriate sentence for an offender.

However, victims may miss their opportunity to provide a victim impact statement due to the quick pace and high volume of summary criminal proceedings. Some victims may also not be aware of their rights to make a victim impact statement and face additional barriers to participating in the court process.

A sentence indication is when a court states the likely punishment an accused person will receive if they plead guilty to a particular charge. However, victims do not always get the opportunity to provide their views to the court before a sentence indication is given.

The review focuses on ways to ensure that victims have adequate support when they attend the Magistrates’ Court and Children’s Court.

Victims may find it daunting and confusing to attend court, where they may feel disadvantaged or unable to participate because of barriers in that environment. Supporting victims at court can help reduce victims’ trauma and stress, make victims feel safer and improve victims’ experience of the court process, including their perceptions of fairness and their confidence in the legal system.

The extent to which at-court support services are available depends on several factors, such as the particular court the victim attends, the type of criminal matter and court occasion, the victim’s characteristics (for example, whether the victim is a child) and available resources.

Victims who do not have at-court support may seek out other sources for assistance, such as Victoria Police or court staff. An over-reliance on such agencies may not be appropriate, as they may not have specialist expertise or sufficient time to provide assistance. Victims may also not be aware of existing at-court support services or may find it confusing to navigate existing at-court support services.

The review is only considering summary criminal proceedings. It is not considering other legal processes, such as:

  • indictable proceedings in the County Court and Supreme Court (examples of indictable offences include murder and manslaughter, serious sexual offences, and serious driving offences)
  • pre-trial proceedings in relation to indictable offences that are heard in the lower courts (such as committal hearings)
  • applications for family violence intervention orders
  • child protection matters
  • family law matters
  • proceedings in the Coroners Court.

How to participate

The consultation is now closed.

Next steps

Your answers will help us to develop proposals for reform that we will include in the final review. The Attorney-General will table the review in Parliament in November 2021, meaning the review will be formally presented to Parliament for consideration. When this happens, the review will be shared on this page.

The review will complement other reform work that aims to improve the experience of victims generally, including victims in summary criminal proceedings. For example, the Victims of Crime Commissioner will be conducting an inquiry into victims as participants in the justice system.

Privacy collection notice

The department is committed to protecting personal information provided by you in accordance with the principles of the Victorian privacy laws.

The department will collect and handle your responses. You may respond to some or all of the questions asked.

Where personal or sensitive information is disclosed as part of any responses, the department will take reasonable steps to de-identify the information before analysing and using those responses. If you have disclosed personal or sensitive information and your response can be identified, you may request access to your response by contacting reviewprojectsandsentencing@justice.vic.gov.au.

Your responses will help us understand people’s views on victims’ experience of summary criminal proceedings and to develop proposals for reform in the final review, which will be publicly available. The final review will not contain any personal or sensitive information.

More information about the department’s privacy practices is available on our website. 

If you have questions about the online survey or form, please contact the department at reviewprojectsandsentencing@justice.vic.gov.au.