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Brussels, 18 May 2011

European Commission ensures better protection of crime victims

A tourist from Poland is mugged and badly injured while visiting Paris. An Italian teenager is attacked outside a metro station in Helsinki. Throughout the EU, an estimated 75 million people may be victims of crime every year. Such events can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims and their families. When they happen abroad, different cultures, languages and laws can create substantial problems. Who do victims turn to for help? What are their rights? One of the EU's founding principles is that people should be treated without discrimination in all EU countries. This principle was upheld in the landmark case Cowan v. Trésor public in which the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 1989 that victims have rights to compensation regardless of their nationality. Whether a person has been mugged or injured during a terrorist attack, all victims should be treated with respect, offered protection and support, and be able to access justice. But current laws across the EU can be patchy, and do not always meet these basic needs. That’s why today the European Commission is proposing a package of measures to ensure a minimum level of rights, support and protection for victims across the EU, no matter where they come from or live. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has an explicit competence to legislate on the rights of victims of crime.

"While our criminal justice systems focus on catching criminals, they sometimes end up neglecting the victims themselves. Today’s Commission proposals will ensure that the EU puts victims first," said Vice-President Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "With millions of people suffering from crime each year, any citizen could become a victim. Victims of crime need respect, support, protection and to see that justice is served. That is why I am putting victims at the heart of criminal justice in the EU by making sure they can rely on minimum rights and support anywhere in Europe."

Whatever the crime – a mugging, robbery, home break-in, assault, rape, harassment, hate crime, terrorist attack, or human trafficking –, all victims share the same basic needs: to be recognised and treated with respect and dignity, receive protection and support for their physical integrity and their property, and have access to justice and compensation.

The Commission wants to make sure these needs are better met. Today’s proposals will reinforce existing national measures with EU-wide minimum standards, so that any victim can rely on the same basic level of rights – whatever their nationality and wherever in the EU the crime takes place.

The proposed Directive on minimum standards for victims will ensure that, in all 27 EU countries:

  • victims are treated with respect and police, prosecutors and judges are trained in how to properly deal with them;

  • victims get information on their rights and their case in a way they understand;

  • victim support exists in every Member State;

  • victims can participate in proceedings if they want and are helped to attend the trial;

  • vulnerable victims are identified – such as children, victims of rape, or those with disabilities – and they are properly protected;

  • victims are protected while police investigate the crime and during court proceedings.

To help protect victims of violence from any further harm by their attacker, the Commission is also proposing a Regulation on mutual recognition of civil law protection measures. It will ensure that victims of violence (such as domestic violence) can still rely on restraint or protection orders issued against the perpetrator if they travel or move to another EU country.

Today's set of proposals are a first step in making victims of crime a central element of our justice systems. In the coming years, the Commission will take action to strengthen existing EU rules on compensation to victims of crime to ensure they have proper access to compensation, particularly when they've become a victim abroad. To give the victims of road traffic accidents in another EU country the chance to claim compensation for damages, the Commission also intends to revise the existing EU legislation on conflict of laws, so that people can rely on the time limits that apply in their home country.


Up to 15% of the EU population may fall victim of a crime somewhere in the EU every year. In addition, many more family members can be affected because they help their loved ones overcome the ordeal or recover from a physical injury or financial difficulties following a crime. The risk of being a victim is just as great when travelling abroad as it is at home. With Europeans making around 1.25 billion trips as tourists within the EU every year, some will inevitably become victims of crime in another country.

Minimum rules for victims are part of the EU's broader objective to build a European area of justice, so that people can rely on the same level of basic rights and have confidence in the justice system wherever they are in the EU.

Victims' rights are also fundamental rights, including the respect for human dignity, private and family life and property. These rights should be safeguarded, along with the rights of others involved in criminal proceedings, such as those accused of a crime.

Another important principle is non-discrimination in accessing victims' rights. The European Court of Justice confirmed in the Cowan v Trésor public case that provision of compensation, for example, should not be limited on grounds of nationality. The case involved a British tourist in France who was robbed and injured while leaving a Parisian subway station. The court found that the UK citizen should have been treated the same as a French national in regards to compensation for his injuries, because as a tourist he was entitled to take advantage of the freedom of provision of services.

The new measures to enhance the protection of victims, presented today, are part of the follow-up the Commission is giving to the EU Citizenship Report 2010,

See also MEMO/11/310.

For more information

Justice Directorate General Newsroom:

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:

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