Attorney General Joe Berinson says it is becoming increasingly common for magistrates' courts to order offenders to make restitution to victims of crime, including orders that fines imposed for assaults be paid over to victims as compensation.
In the most recent example two weeks ago, Mr Berinson said a defendant convicted of assaulting a woman was fined $200, with the magistrate ordering that the fine be paid to the victim.
Such payments were in addition to a victim's right to seek compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act.
While statistics were not presently available, Mr Berinson said the ongoing program to computerise WA courts would eventually ensure information on restitution and compensation orders was accessible.
But he said a clear pattern was emerging where courts were seeking to place responsibility on offenders to compensate their victims.
"There will be cases where an offender does not have the funds to immediately pay a fine or compensation order, and this issue is currently being examined, as it obviously impacts on the effectiveness of the orders," he said.
"I have asked Crown Law to work with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine what can be done in such cases and how the existing provisions can be made more effective generally."
WA courts have for many years been able to order that fines imposed for assaults be paid over to victims. This is in section 145 of the Justices Act, dating back to 1957.
Current advice is that between 1-3 orders to pay fines to victims are made each month in the Perth magistrates' courts, and are particularly common in country areas where offenders and victims are often known to each other, giving the penalty particular relevance.
Mr Berinson said the Government fully supported the concept of restitution and compensation for victims and had greatly expanded its application in recent years through amendments to the Criminal Code in 1985 and the Children's Court of Western Australia Act in 1988.
"The amendments introduced by the Government mean the courts can now order an offender to pay a specified sum of money to a victim as compensation, or hand over property relating to an offence," he said.
· Section 717 (1) of the Criminal Code allows courts to order an offender, or any person in possession of property to which the offence relates, to provide that property to the victim. If the property had been sold or disposed of, the proceeds can be ordered to go to the victim.
· Section 719 (1) of the Criminal Code provides that where injury, loss, damage or expense had been incurred by a victim of crime, the court can order the offender to pay a sum of money to the victim as compensation.
· Section 25 (1) of the Children's Court of WA Act allows the courts to order a juvenile offender to pay restitution or compensation for any damage or loss suffered by the victim.
Mr Berinson said it was important that people were aware of these provisions as they could initiate moves to have them applied if the matter was not raised by the prosecutor or the court.
"While restitution orders are now quite frequent, and payment of fines to victims is increasingly common, there is still room for greater use of compensation provisions," he said.
Mr Berinson said the recently established Victim/Offender Mediation Unit also provided an opportunity for offenders to compensate their victims in a manner agreed by both parties.
Special support and assistance was also provided to victims through the State Government's Charter of Victims' Rights and the recently established Crime Victims Support Unit.