The right exists to make a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) in relevant cases.
The idea of a Victim Impact Statement is to give the court, in the victim’s own words, an understanding of the impact the crime has had on them. It is often the only opportunity for the victim to have their say. Note that you can ONLY talk about the effects of the actual offence for which the offender has been found guilty, or pleaded guilty to. This may not cover the whole of the victim’s actual experience, only the convictions. If you try to include other material, you’ll have to take it out.
You can’t talk about the crime itself, how it happened, what you think of the offender, the police or the court’s decision, or what has happened since. It is restricted to how the crime has affected you – that is, what effects it has had on you, (the victim or the family) both at the time, and since, and how it is affecting your future.
A VIS can only be given by or on behalf of a victim of violent crime and applies to actual (Primary) victims of violent crime, a witness to the crime who has suffered personal harm as a direct result, by victims like family members of the Primary victim or where the victim cannot speak for themselves.
The statement is made AFTER conviction or GUILTY plea, and BEFORE sentencing. Sometimes there isn’t much time between the decision and sentencing, so it can be a good idea to have your statement nearly ready. It can also be good therapy for yourself to actually see in writing, what you have endured and how it has affected you – even if the accused isn’t convicted and you cannot tell the court. You can show your counsellor or support person. Victims are generally pleased they wrote a VIS, even with all the restrictions and rules that apply. See Victims Stories for real life examples of Victim Impact Statements.
In NSW, a VIS can be given in the Local Court, District Court and Supreme Court in NSW. For other states see Victim Support Services in other States.
Our Victim Support Unit at VOCAL will assist you to understand what is required, to help you prepare and, if needed, help you by delivering your Victim Impact Statement in court for you. Like all of VOCAL’s services, this is a free service. You can also get assistance from Victims Services or from other victim support agencies.
NOTE: There is a 10 page information booklet available which we can send, or click here to refer to it online – The NSW Charter of Victims Rights, Number 14 applies. See Lawlink then click on ‘Rights’. Remember, we can help answer questions you may have from a practical, personal point of view.
Making a Victim Impact Statement?
It is the victim’s choice whether they wish to make a victim impact statement. No one may make a statement on behalf of a victim if the victim objects to the statement being made. It may not be confidential, may be seen by the offender and will sometimes be referred to by the media.
As you already know, a victim is not a party to proceedings in a criminal trial. They are a witness, if required by the State (the Prosecution) or by the offender’s side (the Defence). As the case isn’t about them, or about their rights, a VIS can be the victim’s only opportunity to tell the court, in their own words, how the crime has impacted on their lives, by talking about the personal harm they have suffered as a direct result of the offence.
A VIS may relate to any proven offence that involved:
- Actual or threatened violence, including sexual assault; or
- The death of, or any actual physical bodily harm, to any person.
The victim must advise the prosecutor if he/she wants a VIS to be given to the court, and or read out in court.
What should be Included in a Victim Impact Statement?
- Details of any physical injuries caused by the offence, and the impact of these injuries on health, mental health and on life in general in both the short (close to the crime) and long term (as time goes on).
- Details of the emotional, psychological, or mental health impact of the offence on the victim, their family, wellbeing, and life in general (short or long term).
- Details of any changes in behaviours, thoughts, attitudes, coping skills, social life, or relationships with others (i.e. how life was before the crime and how it has changed).
- Details of the impact of the crime on employment, education, or loss of future prospects.
- Details of the financial impact of the crime.
- Relevant medical or psychological reports that support the VIS, (but remember that the VIS is not confidential).
There are legal ‘housekeeping’ rules, all contained in the explanatory booklet mentioned above such as including the full name of the person who wrote the VIS and be signed and dated by that person, that the victim does not object to the statement being given in court and be signed to that effect. And:
- If the person preparing the victim impact statement is a family victim or victim’s representative, name the primary victim, the nature and duration of the relationship.
- The VIS must be in writing and presented in a legible format. It may be either typed or hand-written. It must be on A4 size paper and except with the leave of the court, be no longer than 20 pages in length (including medical reports or other attachments – like photographs).
- Only one victim impact statement may generally be made for each primary or family victim.
- The victim impact statement may be written either by a victim, a family victim, a victim’s representative or by a qualified person, eg counsellor, psychologist, social worker or medical specialist.
Once a VIS has been accepted by a court, a victim (or their representative) is entitled to read all or part of the statement to the court.
Some issues to consider
Be aware that when a VIS is given by the prosecutor to the judge or the magistrate, it becomes part of the court case, so:
- The victim or the author of the statement is subject to possible cross-examination.
- A victim impact statement may be made available to the offender, or any other person, but the offender will be prevented from retaining copies of the statement.
- There is no legal requirement for a victim impact statement to be treated confidentially. There is also no legal requirement to prevent publication. Once the victim impact statement has been handed to the court it becomes a public document, except in relation to children. The media may gain access to the victim impact statement through the court registry and may report on the contents of the victim impact statement that is read out or referred to in court.
Please contact Victims Services for further information.
The grieving family of murdered pensioner Anne Redman has been told it must “temper” victim impact statements that wish violence upon two teenaged killers…click here to read more