Many people fall victim to crime in the EU every year - around 30 million crimes, excluding minor offenses, alone are reported to the police. More and more people are travelling, living or studying abroad and are therefore potential victims of crimes committed in a country other than their own. The EU has a mandate to ensure that citizens and foreigners moving within its borders are protected.
The very nature of a criminal act leaves a victim vulnerable and often in need of assistance. They can be involved, for the very first time, in the criminal justice system and may have to speak to police officers, lawyers and judges and ultimately go to court. Victims can find the process confusing and overwhelming, particularly when they are abroad.
The EU therefore acts to ensure that victims:
- are recognised and treated with respect and dignity;
- are protected from further victimisation and intimidation from the offender and further distress when they take part in the criminal justice process;
- receive appropriate support throughout proceedings and have access to justice;
- have appropriate access to compensation.
Victims must be able to benefit from this minimum level of rights without discrimination across the EU, irrespective of their nationality or country of residence and whether a minor or serious crime is involved, whether they have reported the crime and whether they are the victim or a family member.
The role of victims in criminal proceedings and the relevant national laws and policies on victims' rights differ considerably from one Member State to another. To address such lack of common minimum rules, the EU has adopted EU legislation both in relation to all victims and in relation to specific groups of victims.
General minimum standards to address the rights and needs of victims in criminal proceedings were first established through the 2001 Council Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings . This legal instrument was adopted to ensure that victims can participate actively, have adequate rights and are being treated fairly within criminal proceedings.
However, the Framework Decision proved insufficient to properly address the needs of victims and ensure they benefit from procedural rights in the Member States. Therefore, the Council stated in the Stockholm Programme (2010-2014) that an integrated and co-ordinated approach to victims is needed and calls on the Commission and EU countries to examine how to improve legislation in this area.
To reinforce existing national and EU measures on victims' rights, the Commission adopted on 18 May 2011 the Victims package - a package of legislative proposals - which included:
- a Communication presenting the Commission's current and future action in relation to victims ;
- a proposed Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, protection and support of victims of crime (replacing the 2001 Framework Decision), which will ensure that victims are recognised, treated with respect and receive proper protection, support and access to justice;
- a proposed Regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters , which will help preventing harm and violence and ensure that victims who benefit from a protection measure taken in one EU country are provided with the same level of protection in other EU countries should they move or travel there. This measure complements the Directive on the European Protection Order which applies to protection orders adopted under criminal procedures.
The Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights , support and protection of victims of crime was adopted on 25 October 2012 [2012/29/EU ]. The Directive considerably strengthens the rights of victims and their family members to information, support and protection as well as their procedural rights when participating in criminal proceedings. It also includes provisions that will ensure that professionals are trained on victims' needs and encourage cooperation between Member States and awareness raising on victims' rights.
The proposed Regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters is currently under discussion with the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament under the ordinary legislative procedure and is expected to be adopted in 2013.
The EU has also adopted legislation to address the need for victims to get compensation for the damage caused by crime. The 2004 Directive relating to compensation to crime victims [Directive 2004/80/EC ] provides that victims can apply for state compensation when they have fallen victims to crime abroad, and receive assistance to do so. The 2012 Directive on Victims' Rights also includes an article on the right of victims to receive a decision in criminal proceedings on compensation to be paid by the offender.
With regard to specific groups of victims, EU legislation further establishes protection and support for victims of human trafficking and child victims of sexual exploitation and child pornography .
In addition to legislative action, the Commission has funded hundreds of projects aimed at supporting victims of crime, mainly through funding programmes in the fields of criminal justice and combating violence against children, young people and women (Daphne ).
This legislative package on victims' rights is a first step towards putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice agenda of the EU. As set out in the " Budapest Roadmap " adopted by the Council in 2011, the EU needs to continue addressing victims' rights. In line with the priority actions on victims set out in the Roadmap for the next years to come, the Commission is currently reviewing the legal framework on compensation of crime victims and is focusing on ensuring that the 2011 Directive on the European Protection Order and the 2012 Directive on Victims' Rights will be properly transposed into national legislation by the set deadlines in 2015.
The Commission will also further study and implement practical measures related to victims to ensure that victims obtain effective rights in practice.