Palaszczuk Government ensures victims get vital support
Published Thursday, 01 December, 2016 at 04:33 PM
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for Training and Skills
The Honourable Yvette D'Ath
The Palaszczuk Government is ensuring victims of crime get the vital assistance they need after the Victims of Crime Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced in Queensland Parliament today.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath today introduced the Bill, which contained a comprehensive list of supportive measures for victims of crime.
This includes giving sexual assault victims protection to ensure their private communication with a counsellor cannot be easily accessed by the offender in court proceedings.
The Bill also ensures victims, or alleged victims, of a sexual offence, will be classified as a special witness in court processes and will be able to give evidence in a pre-recorded form, from a remote witness room or behind a screen in the court room so they do not need to see the offender, or alleged offender, face-to-face.
“We are ensuring vulnerable people, including victims or alleged victims of crime, are as minimally impacted as possible when they face the court process,” Mrs D’Ath said.
“A Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege will establish absolute privilege in preliminary court proceedings, such as a committal or bail application, to ensure a victim’s communication with a counsellor remains confidential unless the victim waives this privilege, or the privilege is lost.
“In other criminal proceedings, including a trial or sentence, an offender will not be able to access the counselling communication unless a court grants leave.
“We need to ensure victims feel comfortable and confident when seeking vital counselling and one way to do this is to ensure they feel safe to speak openly and freely without the fear of that conversation being used in court proceedings.”
The Palaszczuk Government is also delivering on an election commitment in this Bill to ensure victims of domestic violence will be able to access financial assistance even if the domestic violence was not physical.
“Ensuring domestic violence victims have access to financial assistance acknowledges that all forms of domestic violence can have significant impacts of families,” Mrs D’Ath said.
These changes come after a statutory review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act. The review found financial assistance was effective in helping victims but recommended 15 amendments be made to the Act.
Establishing the Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege was a recommendation made in the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland report, Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.
Changes outlined in this Bill include:
- Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege: in a preliminary criminal proceeding (a committal or bail application), absolute privilege will apply so a person will not be able to access protected counselling correspondence, including oral or written communication made in confidence between a victim and a counsellor, unless this privilege is waived or lost. In other criminal proceedings, (a trial or sentence), and proceedings under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act, a qualified privilege will apply. This means that if the privilege is not waived or lost, the accused can access the protected counselling communication if the court grants leave.
- The Criminal Code will be amended to ensure the prosecution will not be obliged to disclose protected counselling communication to the defence unless the court grants leave or privilege is waived or lost.
- A victim, or an alleged victim, of a sexual offence will be classified as a “special witness” when required to give evidence against the offender, or alleged offender. Under the Evidence Act, the court has a discretion to make a range of orders including pre-recording evidence, giving evidence from a remote witness room and putting up a screen in the court room.
- The amount of funeral assistance payable to the family members of a person who has died because of a violent crime will be increased from $6000 to $8000.
- Streamlining the amounts payable to victims as special assistance, which is a lump sum payment on top of financial assistance to recognise the impact of the harm caused to the victim. The amounts prescribed for special assistance will be a fixed amount in four different categories of offences: Category A being the most serious offences (like attempted murder and rape) will be set at $10,000 down to Category D being the least serious offences, which will receive $1,000.
- Removing pools of assistance for secondary victims and related victims so that each application for financial assistance is considered on its own merits, rather than as being part of a pool where the amount of assistance is dependent upon the number of other applicants in the pool for the same act of violence.
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