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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner
Ensuring better protection of crime victims
Brussels, 18 May 2011
Any one of us can fall victim to a crime, be it at home, be it abroad. Just imagine that you walk out of your home, you go to the cinema, and you are attacked by two people. You are knocked down, punched in the face, they grab your wallet, your mobile phone. What you have are bruises and nobody to help, and nobody, if you have more damages, to help you later on.
30 million crimes per year are committed in the European Union. Many of those are not reported. Why are they not reported? For the simple reason that people do not trust that something good will come out of reporting it. How many people are concerned? Now, if you don’t just look at those who are directly concerned by a crime, but also at the family members and friends, there are up to 75 million direct and indirect victims per year in the European Union, which constitutes 15% of the population. The danger of what can happen to you when you are at home can even be enhanced if you are travelling abroad. If you know that there are 1.5 billion trips taken per year and 90% of those trips in a European country, you see what the probability is.
So, how are those victims, when they are in a neighbouring country, treated? What kind of support do they get – psychological, financial, emotional, legal? Do they feel protected? Do they feel treated well by the justice systems? When they are abroad, do they feel as if they are treated the same way as if they were at home? What are their rights in the different countries? Here there is a big problem, because those rights vary widely. Some people never see a counsellor after a violent crime, or are not provided a translator when they testify. Cultures, languages, laws are making protection and support sometimes very hard to get and that is why we need to change things. – I would like to remind you that I have already put on the table different directives for the right to translation, the right to see a lawyer, the right to speak with family and friends, all this is the right to be informed, but all of this concerned the accused, it was not for the victim. And this is where there is a gap. This gap, as from today on, will be filled.
Today we are proposing a directive which will provide minimum standards for victims of crime everywhere in Europe. They include ensuring respect, protection during investigations and trials, and providing clear information. People in the justice system will have to give special attention and support to vulnerable victims – I’m speaking about children among others, and I’m speaking about the victims of domestic violence.
This directive will mean that you can rely on getting help, whoever you are, wherever you go, whatever your country of origin and whatever country you are staying in. And these basic rights will – I hope – create confidence in the justice systems all over Europe. These basic rights will put the victims first. That is exactly what we were asked to do in the Lisbon Treaty, where article 82 makes it obligatory to have Europe-wide rules in order to protect victims. This directive will ensure that victims of crime will be treated with respect and sensitivity, that the justice they want to see is served; that they will be informed, that they are treated properly, that they will be told about the date of a trial and get the money back for travel fees. Victims should not be victimised a second time because the proceedings simply do not take account of them – It is essential that they get the medical, psychological, legal and practical support they need, that they are informed of their rights and that they get the help to bring their lives back on track.
You might have understood that I am not slicing it up, as we did for the rights of the accused, when we started first with translation and then with information and so on and so forth. No, here we put everything in one package, so that the victims can feel reassured that somebody will care for them. In the package there is also a regulation on the protection order, because victims should be protected across the border, so that they feel safe wherever they decide to go in the European Union, not only in the Member State they are from and where a protection order has been issued, but also in the neighbouring Member States. In a new regulation, the Commission will ensure that this order is recognised in all Member States, so that the victim can be protected when crossing a border.
No matter where you are in Europe in future, no matter where you choose to live, no matter where you choose to travel, you can have confidence that somebody is there to take care of you. I know perfectly well that we cannot reverse victims’ suffering or restore what they have lost, but we can, with these measures, reduce their frustration and confusion. Because these are very personal matters, we will have today here in Brussels one example. One example of a person who has been a victim indirectly, who has suffered a lot and has not gotten the help she needed. This person wrote to all the Commissioners and she also wrote European parliamentarians, not to ask something for her, but just to ask that another victim might not be treated the same: Madame Maggie Hughes, whose son, Robbie, was attacked on a Greek island and is, since that time, badly injured. She is here today in order to speak about her case. I would like to applaud the courage she has and the message she is bringing and I shall use her example and her commitment as a source of inspiration all through the legislative process.