If you are either a victim of, or a witness to, a serious crime where you were harmed (primary victim), or you are a family member or considered to be a family member of a victim who died as the result of a crime (family victim), you will usually have the opportunity to make a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) to the court.
If you want to, you can read your VIS aloud, or have someone read it for you. This occurs at sentencing.
VIS are made after an offender has pleaded guilty or is found guilty and before the offender is sentenced. A VIS can also be made where mental illness is a factor and the court hands down a finding of ‘act proven but not criminally responsible’.
Who can make a Victim Impact Statement?
If you are a victim or witness of a serious crime (primary victim), you are able to make a VIS that tells the court about any harm suffered by you, or by members of your immediate family.
You can also make a VIS if you are a close family member or considered to be a close family member of a victim who died as the result of a crime (family victim). More than one member of a family 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:
- caused death or physical harm
- involved violence or threats of violence
- was a sexual offence, or a violation of privacy (such as sharing intimate images without consent).
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 you make one. It is important to know that if you choose not to, the court will not take this to mean you were not harmed.
- Making a VIS as a ‘primary’ victim
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. Arrangements can also be made 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:
- personal harm, for example, physical, psychological or psychiatric harm.
- emotional suffering or distress
- harm to your relationships with other people
- economic loss or harm as a result of the above.
Your VIS can also include harm suffered by members of your immediate family. You can include photos, drawings or other images if this helps show how you have been affected.
- Making a VIS as a ‘family’ victim
If you are a family member or someone considered to be 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 you and on other members of the family, although they can also write their own VIS. 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.
- Making a VIS in a mental illness matter
In matters where mental illness is a factor, the court can hand down a finding of ‘act proven but not criminally responsible’. In this case, your VIS can include any risk you feel their release would pose to you, and state what conditions you think should be placed on their release.
- How long can my VIS be and do I have to type it?
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 able to be read by others.
- Are there rules about what I can say?
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 court 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. The prosecutor must receive your VIS before sentencing so there is time to discuss it with you and make any necessary changes.
- Will the offender see my statement before I read it?
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 them to read. 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 prosecution 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.
- Do I have to go to court on the day?
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 a technical right to cross-examine you about your statement, but this almost never happens and they would have to let the prosecution know before and any objections can be dealt with by a re-write of the relevant part.
- Will the media report what I say?
It’s also important to know that your VIS is not a private document once it is handed to the court. Even if it is not read aloud, it becomes part of the court record and members of the public and the media can apply to read it. This does not mean that they will necessarily be given access. 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.
- Support people and court arrangements
You can have a support person, or more than one support person, near you when you read your VIS to the court, or when someone reads it for you.
If you are a victim in a sexual offence matter, the court will be closed to the public when your statement is made.
If you were entitled to give your evidence by CCTV / AVL (even if you chose not to), you will also be able to make your VIS the same way.
If these special arrangements weren't available to you when you gave your evidence, the prosecutor can still ask the court if they can be made when you give your VIS.
- VIS Information Package and more information
For more information on writing a VIS, talk to the prosecutor or your WAS officer and see the Victim Impact Statement information package prepared by the NSW Department of Justice.