How organisations should handle Victims' Charter complaints

We are working on guidance material for organisations involved in handling Victims’ Charter complaints. In the meantime, we recommend the resources produced by the Victorian Ombudsman, including Complaint handling guide for the Victorian Public Sector (External link).

If we receive a complaint about your organisation

 

The Victims' Charter?

The Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (the Victims’ Charter) recognises that all persons adversely affected by crime should be treated with courtesy, respect and dignity by all investigatory agencies, prosecuting agencies and victims’ services agencies and should be offered information to enable them to access appropriate services to help with the recovery process. The Victims’ Charter aims to recognise the impact of crime on victims of crime, including their families, witnesses and the broader community.

Find out more about the Victims’ Charter principles.

 

The Commissioner's role

The Commissioner is an independent statutory appointee. The Commissioner has a range of functions set out in the Victims of Crime Commissioner Act 2015. Those functions include advocating for the recognition, inclusion, participation and respect of victims, and carrying out inquiries into issues affecting large numbers, or particular groups of, victims of crime in Victoria.

The Commissioner may also review complaints made by victims about certain organisations’ compliance with Victims’ Charter principles.

If we review a Victims’ Charter complaint, we may recommend that the organisation that is the subject of the complaint take any of the following actions:

  • make an apology, offer an explanation or engage in a facilitated meeting with the victim

  • engage staff in further training
  • change an organisational policy
  • provide information to the victim.

When the Commissioner cannot review a complaint

If a matter is raised with us as a complaint but does not meet the specific requirements to be reviewed by us as a Victims’ Charter complaint, we might determine that the issues that are the subject of the complaint should be:

  • brought to the attention of the relevant organisation
  • dealt with through the Commissioner’s other functions, such as by carrying out an inquiry on an issue affecting victims of crime
  • dealt with by another body.
 

Our approach to reviewing complaints

When we receive a complaint

We first check whether we can consider a complaint, and then whether we should consider the complaint.

We check whether the Commissioner can consider the complaint

Is the complaint from a victim?

We check whether the person making a complaint is a victim of crime. We are only able to formally consider complaints about an organisation’s compliance with the Victims’ Charter principles made by victims of crime, or their nominated representative.

A victim could be:

  • someone who has suffered injury as a direct result of a criminal offence
  • a family member of a person who has died as a direct result of a criminal offence
  • a family member of someone who has suffered injury as a direct result of a criminal offence, where the person is under 18 years of age or incapable of managing their own affairs due to mental impairment
  • a representative who is formally nominated by a victim for the purpose of the Victims’ Charter.

Who is the subject of the complaint?

We check that the subject of the complaint is an organisation that we can look into. These include:

  • organisations and people authorised by law to investigate a criminal offence (for example, Victoria Police)
  • organisations and people authorised by law to prosecute criminal offences (for example, the Office of Public Prosecutions for Victoria and Victoria Police)
  • public organisations and public officials who provide services to victims of crime (for example, the Victims of Crime Helpline operated by the Department of Justice and Community Safety)
  • non-government organisations that receive public funding to provide services to victims of crime (for example, Victims Assistance Program (VAP) providers, family violence services and centres against sexual assault).

Does the complaint concern Victims’ Charter principles?

We check that the issues raised by the complaint relate to principles set out in the Victims’ Charter.

Timing of the complaint

Usually, we cannot investigate a complaint if a victim brought it to us more than a year after they became aware of the problem.

Has the complaint already been made to the relevant organisation?

We check whether the victim has already complained to the organisation that is the subject of the complaint. We may only consider a complaint if the matter has been raised with the organisation on or after 4 November 2019.

Is the complaint in writing?

We check that the complaint has been made to us in writing. If a person makes a complaint orally, we can assist them to confirm the complaint in writing.

We check whether the Commissioner should consider the complaint

Is it appropriate for the Commissioner to consider the complaint?

We check whether there is another organisation better placed to deal with the issue, such as an industry regulator, the Ombudsman or another Commissioner.

We also check whether there are any reasons that we should decline to consider a complaint, including if there is any reason to believe that a complaint is frivolous, vexatious or misconceived, or was not made in good faith.

Has the relevant organisation given a final response?

Generally, we will decline to consider a complaint unless the organisation that is the subject of the complaint has given a final response to the victim. If your organisation is the subject of a complaint, we might contact you to find out if you have received the complaint, what stage it is at and ask for copies of relevant documents.

In some circumstances, we might decide to consider a complaint even though the organisation has not given a final response – usually this would only occur if there are concerns about the adequacy of the organisation’s process or the time taken to respond to a victim’s complaint.

What happens when we decide to investigate a complaint?

If we decide to investigate a complaint about your organisation, we will contact you to let you know.

We will send a summary of the complaint to you and to the victim who made the complaint. You will have an opportunity to comment on that summary, but you do not have to do so.

After this stage, the case will be passed to an investigator. The investigator will look at the available evidence in detail. They will put together a plan for the investigation, then discuss this with you and with the victim who made the complaint, to make sure you understand the scope of the investigation.

When an investigation is underway

We will start by gathering the evidence that we need from you. The focus of our investigation is to understand what should have happened, what actually did happen and, if possible, why the events the subject of the complaint unfolded as they did.

To gather that evidence, we might ask you to:

  • make staff available for interviews face-to-face or by phone, at mutually agreed times
  • provide documents and information relevant to the specific complaint and any relevant policies or procedures
  • assist us in other ways that will help us better understand the issues raised by the complaint.

To help us fully understand the issues and make useful recommendations, we might conduct independent research or seek expert advice. If we do this, we will not disclose the specifics of the complaint under investigation.

Once we start an investigation we aim to complete the majority between 4 weeks and 6 months. Complex cases might take longer. We will keep you updated regularly throughout the investigation.

When an investigation is complete

Towards the end of our investigation, we will send your organisation and the victim who made the complaint our draft report on the investigation.

This will include provisional findings and recommendations about the complaint and how we think your organisation can put things right. We will give you and the victim who made the complaint the opportunity to comment on our proposed findings and recommendations. For example, you may want to comment if:

  • you feel that our explanation for a finding is not clear enough, or needs more detail
  • we have misunderstood any of the facts or missed anything
  • there is new information that we have not yet looked at
  • you think that we have not taken the right steps to fairly investigate the complaint.

You will usually have 10 working days to respond to our draft report. If you need longer than this, you should let us know.

We will look at any comments from your organisation and the victim who made the complaint to check whether we need to do more work before we finalise our findings and recommendations about the complaint.

What happens after the Commissioner delivers recommendations?

If we make recommendations about steps that your organisation could take to act more consistently with Victims’ Charter principles, we will follow up to find out if they have been implemented. Although we do not have legal powers to enforce our recommendations, the experience of organisations implementing recommendations provides valuable lessons for other organisations as well as for future recommendations we might make.

 

What we expect when we deal with your organisation

How you can help resolve matters efficiently

We understand that staff who are involved in a Victims’ Charter complaint may feel nervous or even defensive when we seek further information about their actions or commence an investigation into a complaint. We also appreciate that your organisation may have been dealing with a particular victim of crime or an issue connected to a victim’s matter for some time, and it can be frustrating to revisit the matter when we contact you.

Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to assess complaints that we receive. We value your cooperation so that we can do this as quickly as possible.

It helps us to resolve the matter sooner if your organisation:

  • answers requests as completely, clearly and accurately as possible. This avoids repeated requests for the same information
  • provides evidence, such as records, to support your response when asked. This helps us reach evidence based decisions, particularly where a victim and an organisation the subject of a complaint disagree about the facts
  • responds by the date requested, or if that is not realistic, contact us beforehand to arrange an alternative time. We usually ask organisations the subject of a Victims’ Charter complaint to respond to requests:
    • within 2 to 3 business days for ordinary requests, or
    • within 10 business days for more complex requests (complex requests usually only occur at the investigation stage)
  • tells us if you think there is more that your organisation could do to resolve the complaint
  • informs us of any change in your organisation that might be relevant to the complaint, such as a change:
    • that would lead to a different outcome for the victim if the issues raised by the complaint were to arise again
    • to your organisation’s handling of complaints about compliance with Victims’ Charter principles that would mean the victim’s experience of making a complaint would be different
  • provide additional information that we may not be aware of.

What you can expect from us

When your organisation deals with us, you can expect us to:

  • be clear about whether we are making enquiries or conducting an investigation
  • be courteous, professional and impartial
  • provide enough information for your organisation to be able to respond properly. However, please note that we are always mindful of the privacy of victims who have complained to us. We very rarely provide copies of victim complaints to organisations the subject of the complaint. We also respect requests from victims not to disclose their identity and other personal information within reason
  • tell you the outcome of the complaint about your organisation in cases where we asked you for information.

If you are concerned about the way that we engage with your organisation or our broader approach, you may make a complaint about us. If you would like to let us know that you think we are doing something well, or any aspects of our work that could be improved, we would welcome your views.