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Courts urged to give victims families a voice

Issued: Wednesday, 2 July 2014
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NSW Attorney General Brad Hazzard has urged magistrates, police and prosecutors to assist families of deceased victims to have their rightful say in court. In a speech to the Local Courts of NSW annual conference today, Mr Hazzard said representations made to himself and the Chief Magistrate, His Honour Judge Graeme Henson showed in some cases a family’s right to present a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) had been overlooked.

“Families have said how important it is for them to have the opportunity to be heard in court – and they have a legislated right to be heard,” Mr Hazzard said.

“We add insult to the injury they have suffered if that right is overlooked.

“The Chief Magistrate has undertaken to ensure arrangements are in place for magistrates to ask prosecutors if there is a family Victim Impact Statement to assist the court.

“I have also written to my colleague, Minister for Police and Emergency Services Stuart Ayres, asking him if procedural changes need to be made in the NSW Police Force on this issue.”

The Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 allows the submission of a family VIS in the Local Court where an offence results in the death of any person. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Police Prosecutor is responsible for arranging that a family VIS is submitted to the court, if the family wishes to prepare one.

Mr Hazzard said under legislation which came into effect on July 1, courts could now also take into account family Victim Impact Statements when sentencing.

“The reform received strong support from a number of homicide victim support groups, including Victims of Crime Assistance League, Enough is Enough, the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation and the Homicide Survivors Support After Murder Group.

“Family victims will still be able to opt to simply read out a statement to the court, if they prefer.

“The NSW Government is committed to improving community confidence in the criminal justice system and ensuring that families are heard,” Mr Hazzard said.