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Silver scales of justice © Photosani, fotolia

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.

Objectives

The very nature of a criminal act leaves a victim vulnerable and often in need of assistance. Victims are, often for the very first time, involved 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 guaranteed a minimum level of rights without discrimination across the EU, irrespective of their nationality or country of residence. These rights should apply whether a minor or serious crime is involved. Victims, and their family members, should also have access to support services - whether or not they have reported the crime – and be protected from further harm.

EU legislative framework

The national laws and policies on victims' rights and the role of victims in criminal proceedings differ considerably from one Member State to another. To ensure minimum level of victims' rights in all Member States, the EU has adopted several EU legal instruments setting up common rules aimed at protecting and assisting victims of crime: horizontal instruments dealing with victims’ rights in general, more specific instruments on protection measures and financial compensation to victims of crime and on substantive law instruments regarding trafficking in human beings and child sexual exploitation.

Strengthening victims' rights in the EU

  • The Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime ensures that persons who have fallen victim of crime are recognised, treated with respect and receive proper protection, support and access to justice. The Directive replaces the 2001 Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings and considerably strengthens the rights of victims and their family members to information, support and protection and victims' procedural rights in criminal proceedings. The Directive also requires that the Member States ensure appropriate training on victims' needs for officials who are likely to come into contact with victims and encourage cooperation between Member States and coordination of national services of their actions on victims' rights.

The EU Member States must implement the provisions of the Directive into their national laws by 16 November 2015. DG Justice has issued a guidance documentpdf(280 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  to assist Member States in this process. This document clarifies the provisions of the Directive, in order to help national authorities, practitioners and relevant service providers understanding what is required to make the victims' rights set out in the Directive a reality everywhere in the EU.

Right to continue to benefit from protection measures when moving to another Member State

To effectively protect victims of violence and harassment, national authorities often grant them specific measures which help preventing further aggression or re- assault by the offender. To ensure that a person who has been granted a protection order in a Member State continues to benefit from this protection when moving or travelling to another Member State, the EU put in place a mechanism for the mutual recognition of protection measures. National protection measures can be of civil, criminal or administrative law nature and their duration, scope and procedures of adoption vary among the Member States. Due to separate legal bases in EU law for mutual recognition of civil law measures and criminal law measures, two separate instruments were required to ensure the circulation of the three most common types of protection measures within the EU.

  • The Directive 2011/99/EU on the European Protection Order (EPO) sets up a mechanism allowing persons who benefit from a protection order in criminal matters issued in one Member State to request a European Protection Order. Such an order allows for protection also in other Member States where the protected person travels or moves. Protection orders covered by the Directive concern situations where victims, or potential victims, of crime benefit from a prohibition or regulation of entering certain places, being contacted or approached by a person causing risk. The Member States shall implement the provisions of the Directive into their national laws by 11 January 2015.
  • The Regulation (EU) No. 606/2013 on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters sets up a mechanism allowing for a direct recognition of protection orders issued as a civil law measure between Member States. Thus, persons who benefit from a civil law protection order issued in the Member State of its residence may invoke it directly in other Member States by presenting a certificate to competent authorities certifying their rights. The Regulation applies as of 11 January 2015.

Right to compensation

  • The Directive 2004/80/EC relating to compensation to crime victims provides that persons can apply for state compensation when they have fallen victims to crime abroad, and receive assistance to do so. The Directive requires that all Member States have a state compensation scheme which provides fair and appropriate compensation to victims of intentional violent crime. The directive also creates a system of cooperation between national authorities for the transmission of applications for compensation in cross-border situations, notably victims of a crime committed outside their Member State of habitual residence can turn to an authority in their own Member State to submit the application and get help with practical and administrative formalities.
  • The Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights Choose translations of the previous link , support and protection of victims of crime (Article 16) provides the right to obtain a decision on compensation by the offender, within a reasonable time, in the course of criminal proceedings (or other legal procedures). It also encourages mechanisms to recover compensation awards from the offender.

Non-legislative actions

In addition to legislative action, the Commission has funded hundreds of projects aimed at supporting victims of crime, in the fields of criminal justice [JPEN and JUSTICE Choose translations of the previous link  2014-2020]  and combating violence against children, young people and women [Daphne Choose translations of the previous link  and REC Choose translations of the previous link _Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020].

Next steps

Since the " Budapest Roadmap " adopted by the Council in 2011, the EU has been working very hard to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice agenda. In particular, the adoption of the package of legislative proposals described above was a great success. It is not enough, however, to have victims' rights only on paper. These rights must be applied and implemented in practice. Adequate transposition, implementation and application of the newly adopted EU measures is a priority for the Commission's actions in the area of victims' rights.

Year 2015 is a crucial moment for making the victims' rights a reality in all EU countries. The Member States must ensure that all the provisions of the Victims' Rights and EPO Directives are correctly transposed to the national law and that the provisions of the Regulation on civil law protection measures are correctly applied by the relevant authorities. The Commission will keep assisting Member States in these tasks. In particular, the Commission organises experts meetings with national authorities on various subjects related to the application and implementation of these instruments. The Commission also assists the Member States by providing guidance and promoting best practices and possible solutions.

Key dates

EU act

Adoption date

Transposition/implementation date

Directive on Victims' rights

25 October 2012

16 November 2015

Directive on the European Protection Order in criminal matters

13 December 2011

11 January 2015

Regulation on mutual recognition of protection orders in civil matters

12 June 2013

11 January 2015

Background

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 in criminal proceedings, 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 called 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, a package of legislative proposals (the Victims package Choose translations of the previous link  ) was adopted in May 2011, accompanied by a Communication presenting the Commission's current and future action in relation to victims [COM(2011)274].