Victim Impact Statements Tasmania

During sentencing in a criminal matter, victims of the offence have a chance to tender victim impact statements to the court. This statement is a victim’s opportunity to tell the court in their own words about the physical, emotional and financial effects of the crime. This article explains the purpose of victim impact statements in criminal cases in Tasmania.

What Is A Victim Impact Statement?

A victim of crime is often also a witness in a criminal matter. As a witness, the victim must only answer the questions asked by the prosecution and defence lawyers. This can be a traumatic experience and can lead a victim to feel that the court has not heard or understood the true impact of a crime.  The justice system addresses this problem through victim impact statements. This allows a victim to have a voice before the judge passes the sentence. The victim can choose to read the statement aloud in court or have someone else do so on their behalf. In rare cases, the judge or magistrate may ask questions about the contents of the victim impact statement.

A witness assistance officer can help someone prepare a victim impact statement. If someone chooses to make a victim impact statement, they need to pass it on to Victim Support Services at least five days before the expected sentencing date. They will check the statement to ensure that it abides by court etiquette and help make any required changes. The victim can continue to make changes to the statement at any time before it is read to the court. 

Who is a victim?

In Tasmania, someone can make a victim impact statement if they are the “victim” of an indictable crime. Under the Sentencing Act 1997, a victim is someone who either suffered an injury during the offence or, in the case of unlawful death,  a member of a deceased’s immediate family (spouse, de facto partner, parent, guardian, stepparent, child, stepchild, sibling, or stepsibling). The Victims of Crime Service, Victims Support Services and Tasmanian Police can provide advice on whether a crime qualifies as an indictable offence.

Victim impact statements are voluntary. Victims should be aware that just because they decide not to submit a statement does not mean that the court will assume that they suffered little or no harm.

Preparing A Victim Impact Statement

A victim can type or write their own impact statement or use a form. There is no doubt that this is a challenging task. It can be difficult to adequately convey the emotional, financial and physical impact of a crime. The victim should be patient with themselves and take as long as they need to put their feelings into words. They can also get assistance with writing the statement from a counsellor, psychologist or support service officer.

There are a few rules that apply to making a victim impact statement. The victim should include information about the impact of the crime, such as:

  • Physical injuries, including pain suffered and any past or ongoing medical treatment, as well as information on how the injuries impacted their life;
  • Financial loss, including details of the loss and how it has impacted their life;
  • Emotional or psychological harm, including a description of suffering and treatment, and the impact on them, their family and relationships, work and lifestyle; and
  • Any other effects the victim thinks are relevant for the court’s consideration.

When writing the statement, the victim should concentrate on how the offence affected them and their family. When the crime includes unlawfully causing the death of a family member, the victim may also wish to include a profile of their loved one, describing:

  • Their life;
  • The victim’s relationship with the deceased;
  • Whether the victim was financially or emotionally dependent on the deceased for support; and
  • How their life has changed since their loved one’s death.

The victim should exclude:

  • The details of the crime as the prosecutor will provide this information to the court;
  • Vilification or abuse of the convicted person;
  • Offensive language;
  • Commentary on the justice system, court or the police; and
  • Any opinion on the sentence itself.

Benefits

Many victims find making an impact statement helps them come to terms with the effects of crime. While it can be challenging to write the statement, it can also be healing to acknowledge the reality of what happened and the impact of the crime. Additionally, the court will become aware of these facts and take this into account during sentencing.

There may also be a practical benefit to submitting a victim impact statement. Under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1976, courts can order reparations to a victim when a person is killed or suffers injury. The Commissioner can direct the offender to repay this compensation to the Crown.

You can speak to the police officers or prosecutor of your case or ask a victim of crime worker to assist you with your victim impact statement. Contact the Go To Court team for assistance or further information on making a victim impact statement.

Author

Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.
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