Victim Impact Statements (VIS) (NSW)
When a person is certain offences in New South Wales, the victim can provide a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) about the physical, mental or emotional harm they have suffered as a result of the offending. This right is available under the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999.
The idea behind a VIS being read aloud in court by the victim is to provide them with a therapeutic benefit by allowing the victim to tell the court about the impact of the crime on their life.
A VIS can be considered during sentencing for offences that include actual or threatened violence, the death of a person, and sex offences.
Definition of victim
A victim is a person who has suffered physical, psychological or psychiatric harm. They can be a person against whom a crime was committed, or a person who witnessed violence, sex offending, death or infliction of physical harm. They can also be a member of a victim’s family where the victim has died as a result of an offence. A “family victim” includes grandparents, stepchildren and close relatives.
What is in a Victim Impact Statement?
The VIS can contain details of:
- physical, psychological or psychiatric harm;
- emotional suffering or distress;
- harm to personal relationships;
- economic harm or loss.
The VIS can be prepared by the victim or by another person because of the person’s age or impaired capacity. It can have supporting documents attached to it, such as photographs.
A VIS must not include certain information, such as:
- details of the crime itself;
- an offender’s criminal history;
- any medical conditions without supporting documents;
- factual errors;
- an opinion about the character of the offender;
- offensive language.
A copy of a VIS can be provided to the offender’s lawyer, but it must be destroyed at the end of sentencing proceedings.
Presenting a Victim Impact Statement in court
If a VIS has been tendered to a court, the court must consider the statement before it sentences the offender, and can comment on it. If no VIS is tendered, this does not mean the offence caused little or no harm to the victim.
The victim can read their VIS in court. The victim is entitled to have a support person (or support people) chosen by them, close to them and within sight, when the statement is read out. This right applies whether the VIS is read in open court, closed court or via CCTV.
For proceedings involving sexual offences, a VIS is read in closed court unless the victim consents to it being read in open court, or if there are special reasons in the interests of justice that require the statement to be read in open court.
Any other victim can apply to read their VIS in closed court or via CCTV. In deciding whether to grant such an application, the court must consider factors such as whether it is reasonably practical to exclude the public, and whether there are special reasons in the interests of justice that require the statement to be read in open court.
A victim can request the court not disclose all or part of a VIS to an accused person, or that the statement not be read out in court.
Other sentencing considerations
The sentencing judge or magistrate must consider many other factors when determining an appropriate sentence. These include:
- the nature and seriousness of the offence and how prevalent it is;
- aggravating factors;
- mitigating factors;
- the offender’s personal circumstances, such as their background, employment, family and health;
- whether and how early the offender pleaded guilty;
- whether the offender co-operated with police;
- the offender’s explanation for their offending;
- any remorse shown by the offender, and their likelihood of reoffending;
- any rehabilitation efforts made by the offender;
- any prior convictions, and any similarity to the latest offending;
- any damage, loss or injury caused.
Under the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999, a victim of crime, their immediate family member, or their parent or guardian, has a right to receive information about a serious offender. A serious offender is a person those serving a life sentence, a sentence with a non-parole period of 12 years, or a sentence for murder; or those classified as such by a court, the State Parole Authority or the Commissioner of Corrective Services. When the offender is up for parole, those with a right to information are permitted to provide their views and concerns to the parole board when it considers the parole application.
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.