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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 4242 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

The introduction of victim impact statements certainly has helped. Improvements to court procedures and police procedures, which were not necessarily crash-hot, have helped lots of victims. I refer to simple things like keeping victims informed. I might say, too, that the DPP's procedures were not particularly marvellous earlier, but they have been improved. Keeping victims informed, making sure victims are aware of adjournments, treating victims compassionately, with sensitivity and with a little common sense, making sure victims are away from defendants in court and the introduction of video evidence are measures that have helped victims a lot.

It is difficult for victims, especially civilian victims, to appreciate that sometimes the defendant will get off. That causes trauma in itself. I am not quite sure how to overcome that, apart from doing what I was always trying to do, which was simply to explain that the court was not necessarily going to convict the defendant as there may not be enough evidence and we had certain standards in this country requiring guilt to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. The police officers who were victims often would appreciate that a lot more.

One of the biggest problems I found in Canberra - more so with police than with civilian victims - was that when someone was convicted after a very lengthy case the court would impose what the victims would regard as an unrealistic and very weak penalty. The courts are not very consistent there. It is difficult to get the courts to be consistent, but I think that that is something that the courts do need to address. The citizens of the ACT, certainly the victims, do deserve courts to be as consistent as possible and to have penalties that reflect the actual offence, are realistic and take into account just what has happened to the victim and the victim's family and the effect that it has had on them. That is at least as important, perhaps even more so, than the effect of the crime on the perpetrator because without the perpetrator you do not have the crime.

All of those things are terribly important in terms of making victims feel that the system is listening to them and that they are obviously an essential part of it because without their evidence in a defended matter there would be no trial and there would be no conviction at the end of the day. There is probably still a lot that we can do, even though I agree that there have been substantial improvements in the last 10 to 12 years. I think a lot more can be done by the judicial system and the people within it to improve the lot of victims. As I say, a lot has been done. I am pleased to see that. I am pleased to see rooms being set aside for victims and action being taken to make sure that victims are away from defendants, but a lot more can be done by both the judiciary and people within the court system.

It is not just a matter of money. Sure, having more money can help, but there are certain things that having more money cannot help with. The proposals in this scheme, especially the greater emphasis on counselling and trying to assist a victim to get back on the rails and get over the trauma and over the injury that have been caused, are very sensible indeed. If that has the effect of reducing the bill for the public, I think that is for the good. I note that some of the amendments still have payout provisions. That is fine.

I am interested in Mr Hargreaves' comments in relation to the courts chasing up money from criminals who can afford to pay it. I understand that there is provision in the current Act for that to occur. I was surprised when he said that only a few hundred

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