Making a victim impact statement
Who can make a VIS?
You will usually be able to make a VIS if you suffered physical or psychological / psychiatric harm in a serious crime that involved:
- physical violence (including sexual assault), or threats of violence
- someone's death, or physical harm.
You don’t have to have been a direct victim, you can be a witness who suffered psychological / psychiatric harm. Both direct victims and witnesses are referred to as ‘primary’ victims.
You can also make a VIS if you are an immediate family member of a victim who died as the result of a crime (a ‘family’ victim). More than one member of a family can make a VIS.
A judge can still decide to accept a VIS in other circumstances. If you want to make one, talk to the prosecutor as early as possible about whether you will be able to.
A VIS is voluntary – it is up to you whether or not you make one. It is important to know that if you choose not to, the court will not take this to mean you have not been harmed.
If you are a ‘primary victim’, you can write your VIS yourself or get help from your WAS officer, if you have one, or from family and friends. If you are seeing a counsellor because of the crime, the counsellor can help you write one or write one for you. The prosecutor can also arrange for your VIS to be written by a psychologist, social worker, medical specialist or other qualified person.
Your VIS should tell the court about the personal harm you suffered as a result of the crime /s for which the offender was convicted. While everyone will be affected differently, this could include:
psychological or psychiatric harm
harm to your emotional wellbeing
changes in your behaviour, attitudes, or how you think about things
changes in your normal coping skills
changes in your social life or your relationships
impacts on your finances, housing, education or employment.
You can include photos, drawings or other images if this helps show how you have been affected.
If you are a family member of a victim who died as a result of a crime, your VIS should tell the court what impact the victim’s death has had on the immediate family. You can include photos, drawings or other images if this helps you express yourself.
Like primary victims, you can read your VIS to the court if you want to, or have someone read it for you.
There are some extra steps family victims have to take for the court to not only receive or listen to your VIS but to take it into account in sentencing: the prosecutor has to apply to the court for this to occur and the court has to agree it is appropriate.
Talk to the prosecutor as early as possible if you want the magistrate or judge to take your family VIS into account when sentencing the accused.
Your VIS can be as short as you like or up to 20 A4-size pages. The 20-page limit includes any medical reports or other information you want the court to see. Your VIS doesn’t have to be typed but it has to be readable.
There are some limits on what you can say in a VIS.
You can only write about the impact of the crimes for which the offender was convicted — not about offences where there was no conviction, or about past offences.
You should also not give your personal opinions about the offender, the sentence they should receive, or what the judge should take into account during sentencing.
It’s also important to remember that a VIS is not a letter to the offender; it is a statement to the court. It can’t be offensive, threatening, intimidating or harassing.
Talk to the prosecutor about what you can include, and have your VIS ready to show the prosecutor as early as possible so there is time to make any necessary changes.
Yes, it’s important to know that both the offender and their lawyer (the defence) have the right to read your VIS once the prosecutor gives it to the court. (The offender can only read it, not make a copy of it.) If the defence believes it includes things it shouldn’t, they can ask the court for those parts to be removed.
To avoid last minute requests for changes, the prosecutor will usually give an advance copy to the defence so any objections can be raised as early as possible.
Talk to the prosecutor about this, but it is fairly safe to assume you won't have to go to court on the day if you don't want to. The defence has the right to cross-examine you about your statement, but this almost never happens.
It’s also important to know that your VIS is not a private document once it is handed to the court. Even if you don’t read it aloud, it becomes part of the court file and members of the public and the media can apply to read it. (The restrictions on not identifying children and victims of sexual assault continue to apply.)
Some victims and family members will want the community to hear about the harm the offender’s crimes caused, and will welcome media coverage. But if you don’t feel ready for this, or if you don’t want your personal experiences made public, talk to your family and friends and the prosecutor about whether making a VIS is right for you.
Special arrangements can be made for vulnerable victims who want to read their VIS to the court.
In some cases of domestic violence and sexual violence, victims can be in another room and make their statement via CCTV / AVL. Children and victims with an intellectual disability can also use CCTV / AVL.
In most sexual offence cases, the court will be closed to the public while victims read their VIS, and victims will be entitled to have a support person with them.
You can ask the ODPP prosecutor or your WAS officer whether these arrangements can be made for you.