The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (Other) is designed to provide assistance to victims of acts of violence. However, Other cannot provide assistance in relation to crimes consisting of property damage, including arson, where there is no act of violence against a person which directly injures someone.
There must be an act of violence against a person before compensation will be awarded under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996[i]. There must also be a primary, secondary or related victim, as defined by the law.
In the case of Lowe v Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal  VCAT 1092[ii] a house was burned down while the owners were not home. The owners returned during the ?mopping up' of the fire and each suffered psychological reactions as a result. Despite being injured, they did not receive assistance from Other. This was because no act of violence has been committed against them in a direct manner .
In Lowe, Senior Member Davis said that the words of the Act make it clear that the offence involves an offence to the person, not an offence against property which resulted in injury to the person. Put a different way, it must mean that there is an act of violence against a person.
In the case of Mathews v Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal  VCAT 1099, Mr Mathews saw his property being burned down. However, at all times he was outside the fire zone and was not threatened. As the act of violence was committed against property and not against him, Other did not offer assistance to Mr Mathews.
If the arson or property damage was designed to hurt a person, this would be an act of violence. What is not clear is whether Other would provide assistance to a person who was threatened, burned or injured by a fire which was not intended to injure them. Other may not see this as an ?act of violence against a person', as required by Lowe.
The answer appears to be in the definitions of ?victims'. Under the Other scheme there are strict definitions for primary, secondary and related victims. A person is a victim, under at least one of these definitions, if they are:
- injured or die as a direct result of an act of violence committed against them; [iii]
- injured or die as a direct result of trying to arrest someone, prevent an act of violence or aid or rescue someone who is a victim of an act of violence; [iv]
- present at the scene of an act of violence and injured as a direct result of witnessing that act; [v]
- injured as a direct result of subsequently becoming aware of an act of violence against a child under the age of 18 for whom they are parent or guardian; [vi] or
- a close family member, dependant or in an intimate personal relationship with someone who died as a direct result of an act of violence. [vii]
It appears that someone who was threatened, burned or injured by a fire which was not intended to injure them would be entitled to assistance if they could satisfy one of these criteria.
Unfortunately, this means the many Victorians who are indirectly injured as a result of arson and property damage cannot access assistance through Other.
If you would like to know more about how your situation may be treated by the Tribunal, please call our free Adviceline on (03) 9321 9988.
[iii] Section 8 of Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996.
[iv] Section 8 of Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996.
[v] Section 9 of Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996.
[vi] Section 9 of Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996.
[vii] Section 11 of Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996.