New laws give victims a stronger voice

Published: 28 Nov 2018

A major overhaul of the forensic mental health system gives victims more support after a defendant is found unfit to be tried or not guilty by reason of mental illness.

The changes include:

  • a new Specialist Victims Support Service (SVSS), to begin operating in early 2019.
  • victims will be able to make submissions to the Mental Health Review Tribunal (the Tribunal) about how it would impact them if a patient was released into the community.
  • all Victim Impact Statements will be considered by a court or the Tribunal.

The new laws will also require a forensic patient’s limiting term (the estimated sentence that would have been imposed in a normal trial process) to be paused if they are unlawfully absent. Material such as a defendant’s DNA will now be retained and will be available for comparison if a forensic patient commits a further offence upon release.

The NSW Government is also consulting relevant stakeholders on the new wording for the 'not guilty by reason of mental illness' verdict. The name of the verdict is being changed to reduce confusion for victims, patients and the community.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said the new laws passed through NSW Parliament will ensure balanced consideration of victims’ rights after a person is found unfit to be tried or not guilty by reason of mental illness.

“The NSW Government is investing $8.5 million from next financial year in establishing and maintaining a vital service to deliver crisis support, counselling, case management and advocacy to victims throughout the justice process,” Mr Speakman said.

“The service will manage a specialist victims’ register that keeps victims of forensic patients up-to-date on relevant case developments, such as when an application to release a person from a mental health facility is listed for hearing.”

The Victims Access Line – 1800 633 063 operates Monday to Friday, 8am – 6pm (excluding public holidays).

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