If someone pleads guilty or is found guilty of the crime, you can tell the court about how the crime has affected you.
You can do this by making a Victim Impact Statement. A Victim Impact Statement can help the judge or magistrate understand how the crime has affected you. It gives you a chance to talk about how you feel, and what has happened to you because of the crime.
Your Victim Impact Statement is one of the things the judge or magistrate thinks about when they decide what penalty to give the offender.
A Victim Impact Statement is different to the statement you make to the police, where you tell them exactly what happened at the time of the crime.
It's about explaining how the crime has affected you:
Any victim of any crime can make a Victim Impact Statement.
You are a victim of crime if you are physically injured or suffer emotional problems, loss or damage because of a crime. This includes any grief, distress or trauma that a crime causes.
You don’t need to be the person who the crime was committed against (the primary victim) to make a Victim Impact Statement. Family members, and sometimes friends can also be considered victims of the crime and can make one.
You can also prepare a Victim Impact Statement on behalf of a primary victim of crime if they:
- are under 18 years of age
- are ill
- have a physical or intellectual disability.
Victim Impact Statements are optional
You don't have to make one if you don't want to. If you decide not to make one, the court will still hear about how the crime affected you through the evidence presented in the court case.
Preparing your Victim Impact Statement
When to write your Victim Impact Statement
Don't start writing your Victim Impact Statement straight after the crime happens. It's a good idea to talk to the Victims of Crime Helpline about when you should start your Victim Impact Statement.
There is no set way to prepare a Victim Impact Statement
But every Victim Impact Statement must have a statutory declaration at the end.
A statutory declaration is a statement signed by you and declared to be true and correct in front of an authorised witness.
An authorised witness can be a:
- police officer
- bank manager
- State school principal.
By signing the statutory declaration, you agree your statement is true. You can be charged with making a false statement (perjury) if you include information you know is not true. You must be as accurate as possible with the information in your Victim Impact Statement.
Use the Victim Impact Statement form
One way to prepare your Victim Impact Statement is by using the Victim Impact Statement form. You can type directly into this form, save it to your computer and print it when you’re done. The form has a statutory declaration for you to fill out.
Some people use this form as a journal to help them remember things to include later on.
What to include in your Victim Impact Statement
The court wants to hear from you in your own words about how the crime affected you.
You should explain how the crime has affected you emotionally, physically, financially and socially.
You might want to describe any emotional impacts of the crime, including:
- your general feelings of wellbeing or enjoyment of life
- how the crime has affected any relationships (with your partner, family, friends or co-workers)
- any emotions or feelings related to the crime (such as hurt, anger, fear, frustration)
- effects on your lifestyle and activities (such as trouble sleeping, eating, working)
- psychological effects of the crime, including any treatment required (such as depression, anxiety, stress).
This might include:
- injuries as a result of the crime (such as broken bones, nerve damage)
- how injuries have affected your life (such as work, sport or leisure activities)
- any long term impacts of injuries on your life
- any medical treatment required including future or ongoing medical treatment.
This might include:
- loss of earnings because of the crime (if a physical or psychological injury has affected your ability to work)
- general expenses caused by the crime (such as home security, replacing items)
- travel expenses because of the crime (such as court appearances)
- medical treatment needed because of the crime (such as ongoing treatment for a recurring injury the crime caused).
You might describe problems the crime has caused in your daily life, including how the crime has affected:
- work or study commitments
- family or social life (friendships, social events, sporting commitments)
- how safe you feel.
Some people find it useful to think about how their life has changed since the crime, and how they see their future.
When a crime has caused the death of a loved one, you might want to describe how your life has changed, and what you miss most about them.
Adding other things to your Victim Impact Statement
You can add a letter, poem, drawing, photo or other attachments if they relate to how the crime has affected you.
You can also attach a medical report to support the statements you make about the impact of the crime on you. This can be from your doctor, dentist or psychologist.
What to avoid in your Victim Impact Statement
Because there are laws about what evidence is allowed in court (admissible evidence) and what is not allowed (inadmissible evidence), there are rules about what you can include in your VIS.
The most important thing to remember is your VIS should only be about how you’ve been affected by the crime.
If you include information that is not about the impact of the crime on you, all or part of your VIS might be inadmissible.This means the court will not take your VIS into account when sentencing the offender. Your VIS can’t be read aloud in court.
Make sure that you:
- don’t describe the crime more than what is necessary to explain how it affected you
(the judge or magistrate already knows about the crime)
- don’t say what sentence you think the offender should get or what should happen to them
(this is the judge or magistrate’s decision)
- don’t mention crimes the offender may have committed in the past
(the judge or magistrate already knows about the offender’s criminal record, and is only sentencing the offender for the current crime)
- don’t give your opinion about the chance of the offender committing other crimes in the future
- don’t give your opinion about the offender’s ability to change their ways
- don’t give your opinion about the personality or character of the offender
- don’t mention how the crime has affected other people
(except if you are making a VIS on behalf of someone else)
- don’t mention other documents that you haven’t attached to your VIS, or that weren’t part of the court case
- don’t use inappropriate or offensive language.
Keep in mind that even if your Victim Impact Statement is not admissible, the court will still take into account the effect of the crime on you through the evidence presented at court.
Victim Impact Statements at court
Your Victim Impact Statement is used by the court at the plea hearing.
The plea hearing is when the prosecution and defence lawyers provide information to the judge or magistrate to help them decide on the most fitting sentence (punishment). The prosecutor gives the judge or magistrate your Victim Impact Statement at the plea hearing.
The plea hearing happens after the offender is found guilty or pleads guilty, but before they are sentenced.
After the plea hearing, there is a sentencing hearing. This is when a judge gives the offender their sentence.
This diagram shows where the plea hearing fits in the court process:
This diagram doesn’t show all the different types of hearings that may happen. It only shows when your Victim Impact Statement can be presented in court. Learn more about the types of court hearings.
When does a plea hearing happen?
The time frame for a plea hearing is different from case to case.
County Court or Supreme Court
If the case is heard in the County Court or Supreme Court, sometimes a plea hearing is held on the same day that someone is found guilty or pleads guilty. Sometimes the plea hearing is a day or two after.
Sometimes the plea hearing is booked for several weeks later or even months later. There are many different reasons why this can happen.
You can talk about this more with a witness support worker from the Witness Assistance Service (external link) at the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) or the OPP solicitor handling the case. You may also like to discuss this with the police informant for your case.
If the case is being heard in the Magistrates’ Court, the hearing, plea and sentencing can happen quickly – sometimes on the same day. Other times, a plea hearing is booked in for weeks or sometimes a few months after the first hearing.
You will need to know the date of the first hearing in the Magistrates’ Court so you can keep up to date with when the plea hearing will happen. Talk about this more with your victim support worker and the police informant.
Submitting your Victim Impact Statement
If the case is being heard in the County Court or Supreme Court, give your Victim Impact Statement to the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) solicitor, your Witness Assistance Service worker or the police informant.
If the case is being heard in the Magistrates’ Court, give your Victim Impact Statement to the police informant.
The police prosecutor, OPP solicitor, or Witness Assistance Service worker may talk to you about the admissibility of parts of your Victim Impact Statement.
The offender may read your Victim Impact Statement
The offender’s lawyer also gets a copy of your Victim Impact Statement. This means the offender could read it.
Going to the plea hearing
You don't have to go to the plea hearing if you don't want to.
Although it hardly ever happens, the court may call you to give evidence about what you have included in your VIS. If this happens, you will be given a letter called a subpoena. If you receive a subpoena, you must go to court.
You can also ask a witness, such as your doctor, to give evidence in court to support what you include in your Victim Impact Statement. You should speak with the police informant, OPP solicitor or your victims or witness support worker if you would like to ask a doctor or other expert to give evidence supporting your VIS.
Your Victim Impact Statement can be read aloud at court
If you like, you can ask for all or some of your Victim Impact Statement to be read aloud in court by:
- a person of your choice (the court must approve this)
- the prosecutor.
Your Victim Impact Statement must be admissible (allowed by the court rules) to be read aloud in court.
If you want it read aloud in court, talk to the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) solicitor before the plea hearing in the County or Supreme Court, or the police informant in the Magistrates’ Court before the first hearing date.
The judge or magistrate decides which parts of your Victim Impact Statement can be read aloud in court. They will only allow you, or your representative, to read the parts that are relevant to sentencing the offender. If there are any parts that you don't want read aloud in the court room, tell the prosecutor and make a note about it in your Victim Impact Statement.
If there is an appeal, your VIS will be one of many things the Court of Appeal considers.
At the plea hearing
If you are concerned about your privacy when reading your Victim Impact Statement aloud, you have the right to apply to the judge or magistrate to close the court room. If the judge or magistrate agrees, this means that the general public and media would not be allowed in the court room while you read it.
Even if the judge or magistrate agrees to close the court while you read your Victim Impact Statement, it may still be available to the general public after the court case.
The sentencing hearing
Sometimes a judge or magistrate speaks about your Victim Impact Statement when sentencing someone. They may read parts of it aloud so the court can hear it.
After the court case is over, your Victim Impact Statement becomes part of the official court file.
Any member of the public or even a journalist can ask to read a court file after a court case is over. Newspapers and other media cannot name sexual assault victims in their reports.
If the judge speaks about your Victim Impact Statement at the sentencing hearing, their comments will be made available to the media. If the case was heard in the Supreme Court, their comments will also be published in a public database at www.austlii.edu.au (external link).
Get help to prepare your Victim Impact Statement
Call the Victims of Crime Helpline on 1800 819 817. We can organise help for you.