Alternative Law Journal
by Ian Freckelton; LBC Information Services, 2001; 398 pp; $102.
Compensation for criminal injuries seeks to provide restitution for victims of crime. The area is fraught because it is the state that funds and administers criminal injuries compensation in Australia and, under current political regimes, the emphasis is accountability. The implications are value based. That is, the topic evokes debate about efficacy and process and often the views of the subject-in this case, victims of crime-are secondary.
The potent foreword to Freckleton's book goes some way towards overcoming the conventional approach of many books about the law. It does so by providing the reader with the subjective account of a crime victim that renders the systems, designed to benefit victims, problematic. Importantly, to some
extent the book's foreword humanises and contextualises what might largely be a clinical examination of policy development.
Freckleton's well-researched scholarly work provides a clear outline of how social and political influences have shaped law and policy concerning Australian criminal injuries compensation schemes. This is no easy task considering the fragmented nature of the Australian system that bestows autonomous policy-making powers to its states and territories. Freckleton successfully reports the disjunctions between Australian states and territories in the second part of his work.
Indeed, the structure of this book is excellent. The book has two distinct approaches - socio-political and legal. Part A traces both the history of schemes providing compensation for crime victims as well as contemporary debates about the worth of financial compensation from a number of perspectives. Part B covers the general principles of law concerning compensation for criminal injury. Part C provides an outline of relevant Australian legislation on a state-by-state basis. Advocacy in criminal injuries compensation claims is the topic of Part D.
Although criminal injuries compensation has been the subject of a number of book chapters and journal articles, this is the first publication devoted solely to the topic. As a result, Freckleton is able to take a broad approach to his analysis of the various responses to criminal injuries compensation. His approach is refreshing. A wide audience will easily understand the book. The sections of the book that specifically cover the law are devoid of the usual jargon that often crams the pages of many law books.
Freckleton's aspirations are clear. He seeks to promote the potential of the law, and its processes, as a therapeutic tool within the area of compensation for criminal injury. Despite taking that position, he manages to deliver well-balanced arguments throughout his work. Perhaps the section of Part A that deals with criminal injuries compensation in transition is an apt demonstration of the author's scholastic ability. Freckleton's evaluation, in that chapter, is fair-minded and engages a diverse range of material. In particular, he examines notions of deserving and undeserving victims, the idea that the processes themselves constitute re-victimisation, and issues about the utilisation of available recourses by victims. He maintains a focus on the arguments for and against compensation for victims and the processes of law.
However, it is not until the last chapter that the reader becomes cognisant of the vast array of responses that those who claim criminal injuries compensation face despite the tale told in the book's foreword. The sequela for victims is cast in strong terms. Not only are the personal consequences potentially far reaching and damaging, there is also mention of the roles that a number of professionals play. The chapter provides practical advice for legal practitioners in the preparation of expert medical witnesses. For example, Freckleton provides a dot point checklist of matters that should be addressed in evidence for claims for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Curiously, the book does not examine the role or processes of counselling or counselling services for crime victims. It seems that a broad-based approach to the topic would benefit from including some analysis of counselling services. Perhaps Freckleton chose not to travel that path in view of debates about their effectiveness -in terms of cost, and outcomes for victims. In addition, Freckleton 's accountability argument does not include accountability of the legal or medical fraternities. Instead, he concentrates on victims' services that are mostly funded from the public purse. The expenditure of public funds obviously requires careful scrutiny but a deeper examination of professional accountability would strengthen this book.
In sum, the publication has wide appeal. It caters to the needs of the legal fraternity and students with its clear language, appropriate references to case law and the provision of comprehensive legal information about Australian jurisdictions - and the differences between them. Importantly, for those interested in the development of law, the historical, social and political con texts are well covered by the author.
Freckleton achieves his aim of out lining 'the ways in which the legal sys tem ... has the potential to facilitate ... recovery from violent crime'. His detailed and comprehensive account is required reading for all legal, medical and counselling professionals, students and policy-makers concerned with victims of crime.
Paul Marks is a studying for his doctorate in Legal Studies at Flinders University.