Victim/survivor-focused justice responses and reforms to criminal court practice

Victim/survivor-focused justice responses and reforms to criminal court practice

Implementation, current practice and future directions

Nicole Bluett-Boyd and Bianca Fileborn

Research Report No. 27 — March 2014
Victim/survivor-focused justice responses and reforms to criminal court practice

Reforms have been underway over the last three decades to address the disadvantages that victim/survivors of sexual assault face within the criminal justice system in Australia. Such reforms include expansion of advocate services, specialisation of police, alternative provisions for giving evidence at trial, and changes to jury instructions.

This report was commissioned to examine the implementation of these reforms and their impact on the victim/survivor experience.

Drawing on interviews with 81 criminal justice professionals including counsellors, lawyers, and judges, it looks at victim/survivor-focused approaches, promising and innovative practices, the take up of reforms, the factors that enable or inhibit victim-focused reforms being embedded in court practices, and the potential for future reform.      

Key messages

In order for reforms to be successful, cultural change may be incorporated into reform attempts through formalisation of education concerning both sexual assault and the reform itself.

Future law reform is likely to be more effective if it takes into account the inherent limitations of the adversarial nature of the criminal justice process as well as how role-based concerns of a range of legal and extra-legal actors shape and restrict the implementation process.

Gaps in processes that occur between institutions and agencies can potentially be address by the creation of a specific liaison role that would respond to victim/survivor information needs as a case makes its way along the criminal justice process. Importantly, this role would also provide liaison after the court process.

The lengthy processes of committal and trial can be addressed by legislated timeframe restrictions and deferral to an expedient committal process. 

Alternative provisions for giving evidence can be expanded though audio-visual recording of initial statements to police. Options for using this recording as the evidence-in-chief at both the committal and trial stages of the process would further address the trauma of providing evidence.

Finally, alternative justice responses including inquisitorial systems and restorative justice practice might be explored as options in particular circumstances. Specifically, intra-familial and culturally diverse contexts should be considered for the application of restorative justice.

Authors and Acknowledgements

At the time of writing Nicole Bluett-Boyd and Bianca Fileborn were both at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.


This research draws on the insights of 81 counsellor/advocates, police officers, prosecutors, defence counsels, members of the judiciary and other professionals, across three Australian jurisdictions. We extend our sincere thanks for the time and candour afforded to the researchers, and the contribution that these individuals have made to knowledge concerning the experience of victim/survivors in the criminal justice process.

In order to accurately define the approach of this research, extensive consultation was undertaken in all states and territories. We extend our gratitude to those who provided information and advice concerning the implementation of policy and law reform across the country.

This project was completed by a number of staff who are part of the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault (ACSSA) at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). Senior Research Officer Mary Stathopoulos served as Project Manager. Research Officer Liz Wall conducted the recruitment of participants. Senior Research Officers Nicole Bluett-Boyd and Mary Stathopoulos and Research Officer Bianca Fileborn undertook the fieldwork for this project. Nicole Bluett-Boyd and Bianca Fileborn completed the analysis. Members of the ACSSA team and other AIFS staff assisted throughout the project and added additional insights. Particular thanks also to Dr Daryl Higgins, AIFS Deputy Director (Research), for his support and intellectual guidance.

Finally, we thank the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (now the Department of Social Services) for having the vision to fund this work. In particular, we thank Wendy McCullough for her assistance.

Dr Antonia Quadara
Manager, Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault

Disclaimer

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is committed to the creation and dissemination of research-based information on family functioning and wellbeing. Views expressed in its publications are those of individual authors and may not reflect those of the institute or the Australian Government.

Publication details

Research Report
No. 27
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2014.
89 pp.
ISSN: 
1477-1477
ISBN: 
978-1-922038-44-9
Suggested citation:

Bluett-Boyd, N., & Fileborn, B. (2014). Victim/survivor-focused justice responses and reforms to criminal court practice: Implementation, current practice and future directions (Research Report No. 27). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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