Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 4241 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
One wonders whether the scheme is really achieving the best outcome for victims. My colleague the Attorney-General has put forward a sensible proposal and there seem to be one or two sensible amendments floating around tonight as well. I think that we will end up with a far better scheme than we have. It was high time that the scheme was looked at.
It is not just a question of money. Indeed, there was a lot of inequity in the examples given by Mr Hargreaves. It is very difficult for a lot of the people to understand how someone could get $7,000 for an injury and another person could get $8,000 for an injury that was far worse. I am well aware of criticisms in the legal profession of just how the scheme operates. I suppose that is like any judgment you can get from a court. One registrar or one magistrate will do one thing and another will do something very different. Inconsistencies in court decisions are always a problem. That is why the proposal of the Attorney-General that is being debated tonight is a far better deal for victims.
It has been said in this debate and I have heard it said on the radio that the system would be letting victims down if the Government's scheme were to get up. I do not know why that is being said. Victims certainly were let down until probably 10 years ago when a few improvements started to be made. Certainly, in the 1980s I saw many victims. They were mainly civilian victims, but there were also police victims. I will deal with the civilian victims first.
In those days there were no victim impact statements, which give the courts a chance to see what effect a crime has had on a victim. In fact, I remember the first victim impact statement for the ACT, which was presented in the Supreme Court to Mr Justice Kelly. I presented that victim impact statement. I think Stuart Pilkinton was the defence counsel. We had an agreed statement because I think you had to put an agreed statement then. It was an interesting case. It was about a particularly nasty incest offence committed by a father on his daughter when she was 12 and 13 years of age. She was 15 years of age at the time of the court case. It had gone on for about 21/2 years and the girl had finally complained to her mother. The father had visiting rights and would make sure that the younger brother was asleep before sexually assaulting the daughter. As a result, he received what was for the ACT a very substantial prison sentence. I think it was for 81/2 years and was very much in line with sentences for similar offences throughout Australia.
I remember that quite clearly. I doubt very much whether that penalty would have been imposed had there not been victim impact statements. I think the court acted appropriately there. Whilst the mother and daughter, especially the daughter, probably will always have some scars as a result of what happened, they at least felt that their side of the story had been put. The problem for victims, especially civilian victims, in a case where the defendant pleaded guilty, but often with a not guilty plea, was that their side of the story would not be told. They were the forgotten people in the court case. All the emphasis in court was on the defendant and quite often the civilian victim would feel that the defendant was being treated somehow as a treasured citizen by the court, especially if the defendant was found not guilty or, more likely, the penalty was not particularly great and they were shut out of it.