Victims of crime in the ACT will have access to more information about what is happening with their case, including how an investigation is progressing or when a perpetrator is coming up for parole, under new legislation introduced to the Legislative Assembly.
ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates has welcomed the new bill that will also make it easier for victims to file a complaint against an ACT Government agency if they are not satisfied with how they have been treated throughout the criminal justice process.
“My office supports over 2,000 victims each year, and provides many more of them with basic access to information; in particular, how an investigation is progressing or what is happening with the next court date,” Ms Yates said.
“Equally important is being able to understand what is happening with the serving of a sentence where the offender may receive a custodial community sentence and the opportunity to know when parole applications are being made, and having the opportunity to provide a submission at that point in time.
“Most importantly, it provides a clear complaints framework for concerns to be raised where those rights have been breached.”
The proposed legislation will amend the ACT Human Rights Act to create a Charter of Rights for Victims of Crime, setting out minimum requirements about how a victim of crime should be treated and what information they are able to access.
This includes being advised about bail decisions of if the perpetrator is about to be transferred, released or has escaped, or if there is a breach of an Intensive Correction Order.
Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury says the legislation has been a decade in the making to make sure that the right balance has been struck between the rights of victims, perpetrators and the community in the criminal justice system.
Agencies will be required to detail the level of complaints in their annual reports so there is more transparency and ministers can be questioned about the complaints process and the number of complaints in the Legislative Assembly, Mr Rattenbury says.
“It is fundamentally important that we empower victims in our criminal justice system and give them the opportunity to assert their rights as part of this,” he said.
“We have now found the right balance to put a system in place to change the culture and make clear to agencies in Government that victims do have rights.”
Justice agencies covered by the Charter will include ACT Policing, Victim Support ACT and the Victims of Crime Commissioner, and the ACT Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
It will also include ACT Corrective Services, Youth Justice in the Community Services Directorate, the Restorative Justice Unit, the Sentence Administration Board and the ACT Courts and Tribunals when acting administratively.
The government has set aside just over $2 million to give agencies the capacity to deliver on the commitments outlined in the Charter.
“As the royal commission into sexual abuse pointed out, we do need to have that triangulation of interests. The victims, the accused and the community, and each of those needs to have weight in the system to make sure we get the outcome right,” Mr Rattenbury said.
The ACT Government also introduced legislation based on recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to remove the protection granted to information received under the seal of confession.
The legislation was welcomed by Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse in 2019 but he said he would not direct priests to break the seal of confession regarding crime.
The government flagged the legislation over a year ago but it was introduced into the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (2 July) by Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay.
Ms Yates welcomed the legislation, saying justice can be hard to achieve when members of the clergy were the only people to learn of the actions of sex offenders.
“We cannot allow that evidence to sit tight, it has to be on the public record, particularly when we know some sex offenders have continuously targeted the most vulnerable members of their congregations and communities,” she said.