Rights of victims of crime (Proposal)
The Commission proposes minimum standards for victims of crime. The Proposal for a Directive aims to ensure that the specific needs of victims are taken into account during criminal proceedings, regardless of the nature of the offence or where it took place within the European Union (EU).
Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime [COM(2011) 275 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission proposes a Directive aimed at ensuring that victims * of crime have the same level of protection, support and access to justice in all European Union (EU) countries. It will replace Framework Decision 2001/220/JAI on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings and forms part of a series of measures aimed at strengthening victims’ rights.
The Directive will accord the status of victim not only to persons harmed by the offence, but also to certain family members * if the person dies as a result of the offence.
Information and support for victims
To enable them to fully access their rights, victims must receive sufficient information in a comprehensible form. They must also have access to psychological support and practical assistance. The Proposal aims to guarantee:
- the right to receive information from first contact with a judicial authority, specifically on how to make a complaint of a criminal offence, details of the proceedings and how to obtain protection if required;
- the right to receive information about their case, in particular on the decision to end or proceed with an investigation, on the time and place of the trial, and, under certain conditions, on the release of the person prosecuted for the offence;
- the right to understand and to be understood;
- the right to interpretation and translation: if victims do not speak the language of the criminal proceedings, they shall be provided with interpretation free of charge and shall receive a translation of the complaint made, of any decision ending the proceedings, and of information concerning their rights;
- the right to access victim support services: these services must be free of charge and also accessible to certain family members. They provide emotional and psychological support, as well as practical assistance, for example concerning financial issues and the role of the victim in criminal proceedings.
Participation of victims in criminal proceedings
Victims have a legitimate interest in seeing that justice is done. Furthermore, they should be able to participate in the criminal proceedings which concern them. To this end, the Commission’s Proposal includes a number of rights which victims should be assured of:
- the right to have their complaint acknowledged;
- the right to be heard during the proceedings;
- the right to request a revision in the event of a decision not to prosecute;
- rights to safeguards in the event of using mediation and other restorative justice services; the aim is to protect victims from any intimidation or further victimisation during the process. These services can only be used with victims’ consent and after they have been properly informed. Consent may be withdrawn at any time;
- the right to legal aid and to reimbursement of costs where the victim participates in criminal proceedings;
- the right to the return of property seized in the course of criminal proceedings;
- the right to a decision on compensation from the offender in the course of criminal proceedings;
- concerning victims resident in another EU country, the difficulties connected with these cases should be reduced, specifically by taking a statement from the victim immediately after the complaint of the criminal offence is made and by using video conferencing and telephone conference calls as much as possible for the purpose of interviewing victims. Where victims were unable to make a complaint of a criminal offence in the State where the offence took place, they should be able to do so in their Member State of residence which will then send the complaint to the Member State concerned.
Recognition of vulnerability and protection of victims
The Commission proposes that measures should be available to protect the safety of victims and their family members from possible retaliation or intimidation by the offender. The authorities will therefore ensure that contact with the latter is reduced, particularly in premises where the criminal proceedings are conducted.
During the investigation, victims will be interviewed quickly and only as many times as is necessary. If they wish, they may be accompanied by a legal representative or by a person of their choice. Their private life as well as that of their family must be protected.
The Proposal for a Directive recognises that certain people have a particularly high risk of suffering further during criminal proceedings. After an assessment of their individual needs, these vulnerable victims shall be accorded certain additional rights and services. This Proposal considers children, disabled people and victims of sexual violence or human trafficking to be vulnerable victims.
It is important that justice professionals, police officers and members of the victim support services receive appropriate training so that they are better able to meet the needs of victims.