Calls to reform compensation payments for victims of crime

The Law Society of South Australia has backed proposed reforms before state parliament to the way victims of crime are compensated, with a $2000 limit on claims in place amid reports the fund has accumulated $200 million.

Feb 28, 2024, updated Feb 28, 2024
SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros has introduced a bill to amend the Victims of Crime Act. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros has introduced a bill to amend the Victims of Crime Act. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

SA-Best MLC Connie Bonaros introduced a bill to amend the Victims of Crime act in August 2023, which is currently before parliament.

The proposed legislative changes include repealing the provision restricting full compensation past $2000, and increasing the amount legal practitioners can charge in legal costs.

“The thought that we can cap the amount that we pay someone back in compensation after they have been the victim of a crime through no fault of their own just doesn’t make sense,” Bonaros told InDaily.

“If my dental bill comes in as a result of being assaulted at $19,000, why should I be left with a $5000 bill at the end of it?” she said.

“The bottom line is no victim should be left out of pocket, and that’s currently the case, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

Attorney-General Kyam Maher said the Malinauskas Government had invested an additional $500,000 per year in 2022-2023 to improving support for victims.

“The Victims of Crime compensation scheme, as set out in the legislation, is intended to be a compensation scheme of last resort. The scheme is not, and has never been, intended to fully compensate all financial and non-financial loss,” Maher said.

“The financial impact of this proposed change is predicted to be significant and one that the VOC Fund may not be able to sustain in the longer term.”

The Advertiser reported in January this year the fund is currently holding nearly $200 million, though just $16.9 million was provided in victim compensation in 2021-2022.

The Law Society said victims of crime compensation lodgements dropped by almost 200 in 2022-23 compared to the previous year.

The Law Society has said it feels the proposed changes would not “jeopardise the health of the Fund”, but would allow victims’ direct medical treatment costs or wage loss to be covered.

The Victims of Crime Fund, created by legislation, provides compensation for victims of crime to help cover physical and psychological injuries, pain and suffering, and other financial loss such as loss of earnings or treatment costs.

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Under the current scheme, victims are compensated based on their economic loss and expenses as a result of a crime.

Victims receive the first $2000 of their claim in full, but beyond that receive just 75 per cent of the amount they have been found to be owed in compensation.

Attorney-General Kyam Maher. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“The purpose of this fund is not to prop up the state budget, and it’s not there to prop up the courts,” Bonaros said.

“Governments over time have used it for a number of purposes which have raised questions in terms of the expenditure. It’s there for victims, and they are the innocent ones in this.”

The fund is financed by fines paid by offenders, proceeds confiscated from a crime, levies imposed on convicted and expiation of offences, and funding from Parliament.

“Government’s have not batted an eyelid at increasing those levies that apply across the board in all criminal matters and also in relation to all the fines people receive on a daily basis,” Bonaros said.

“Ultimately it’s a government responsibility. You can’t leave someone out of pocket through no fault of their own. Manage the fund appropriately.”

Bonaros urged Attorney-General Kyam Maher to consider the bill, saying it is the “logical next step”.

“He knows as well as I do that the current limits and thresholds that apply in that law aren’t fair and they need to change,” Bonaros told InDaily.

Currently, legal practitioners can only charge victims of crime up to $1400 in legal costs for these compensation claims, which the Law Society says makes the work unviable for many law practices, with Bonaros saying the cap “doesn’t reflect today’s legal rates”.

Because of this, the demand for claims exceeds the supply of available legal practitioners.

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