New report looks to improve victims’ encounters with the criminal justice system.

New report looks to improve victims’ encounters with the criminal justice system.

A groundbreaking report by the RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice, looking at the experiences of victims through the criminal justice process, has been launched by the Minister for Victim Support, the Hon. Ben Carroll MP.

The Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) commissioned RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) study to better understand the experiences of victims being told about prosecution decisions, particularly around the resolution of cases. 

Solicitor for Public Prosecutions John Cain said the CIJ was a perfect partner for the project, bringing the vigour and respect of an organisation like RMIT to the table, along with great insight into not just the legal system but also, particularly, the criminal justice system.

"Their emphasis is always on improvement and innovation and that strong focus comes through in the report." Cain said.

In conducting the research, the CIJ interviewed 18 victims who had participated in prosecutions by the OPP. Lawyers and social workers at the OPP were also interviewed. 

Victims of crime advocate Melinda Dine became involved in the criminal justice system after her mother was tragically killed and stepfather severely injured by a sleep-deprived and drug-affected driver who collided with their car.

She described her own experience as one of powerlessness and confusion after being told different things to expect by different people she was dealing with. 

"The essence of working with a victim is about communication and I think that’s what this report really represents," Dine said.

"It’s not just the need to communicate and tick the box; it’s the need to communicate effectively,and I think that’s what’s really crucial.

"The recommendations show how to communicate effectively; victims don’t need pity and they don’t need to be feared, we are just people. And the information just needs to be conveyed clearly so there is no guessing, so they aren’t left at the end of the process feeling upset or ignored or cheated."

L-R: CIJ Director Rob Hulls, CIJ Associate Director Stan Winford, CIJ Senior Advisor Nareeda Lewers, Solicitor for Public Prosecutions John Cain and Minister for Victim Support, the Hon. Ben Carroll MP.

Associate Director of the CIJ Stan Winford said that while in most cases OPP lawyers do a good job of informing victims about the prosecution, there is still room for improvement. 

“Victims told us they want to actively participate in the decision-making process,” Mr Winford said. 

“While they generally accept resolution decisions are the OPP’s to make, they don’t merely want to be told about a decision. They want the chance to express their views, and for those views to be taken into account by the lawyer.” 

Other findings from the report include that victims want to be given enough information about the case to be able to contribute an informed view and a have strong professional relationship with the OPP lawyer. Report co-author and CIJ Senior Advisor Nareeda Lewers said for many victims, the process of being consulted was just as important as the outcome. 

“Our findings show victims are more likely to be confident in the outcome if they are properly consulted, but less so if they are not. It is the process that makes the difference.” 

The study acknowledges the challenging nature of the prosecutor’s role in terms of balancing their duties to act independently and fairly with their responsibilities to victims. It also reveals lawyers can face difficulties with being put under pressure by the courts to make resolution decisions quickly, and managing the unrealistic expectations of victims established prior to the case reaching the OPP. 

Solicitor for Public Prosecutions John Cain said that despite these challenges the OPP was committed to implementing the recommendations of the report. 

“The OPP is determined to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system and this report sheds light on how we can better communicate with them about complex decisions,” Mr Cain said.

“In line with the recommendations, we have already taken steps to provide training for our lawyers on best-practice communication and will update our procedures to reflect this.” 

“Over the past few years we have been reviewing every aspect of our work to improve outcomes for victims. As part of this we launched a new website for victims, a victim support dog program and we now have social workers and lawyers working together in multidisciplinary teams.” 

The report, Communicating with Victims about Resolution Decisions: A Study of Victims’ Experiences and Communication Needs, can be accessed here


Story: Karen Phelan


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