Rights of the victim
The Commission has made support to victims of crime a priority and is taking steps to ensure that their needs are met.
One of the greatest test of the quality of our justice systems is how well we treat our victims - appropriate treatment is a demonstration of our societies' solidarity with each individual victim and recognition that such treatment is essential to the moral integrity of society.
It is therefore crucial not only to combat and prevent crime, but also to properly support and protect individuals who do fall victim to crime.
Both legislative and practical measures have been put in place to provide an adequate level for the protection of victim's rights throughout the EU.
Crime victims' needs
People falling victim to crime have a range of needs, varying from victim to victim. To meet these individual needs, it is necessary that all victims are treated individually. However, the needs of victims can be grouped in the following five broad categories:
- respectful treatment and recognition as victims, both within the justice system and more widely by society;
- protection both from intimidation, retaliation and further harm by the accused or suspected and from harm during criminal investigations and court proceedings, such as by avoiding repeated interviewing of the victim;
- support, including immediate assistance following a crime, longer-term physical and psychological assistance and practical assistance during proceedings to help victims understand, participate and to reduce their distress;
- access to justice to ensure that victims are aware of their rights and understand them both linguistically and legally, are able to provide additional information and to participate in proceedings; and
- compensation and restoration, whether through financial damages paid by the State or by the offender or through mediation or other form of restorative justice that allow victims to face the accused, with a view to reaching a voluntary agreement between them on how to repair the harm to the victim.
EU action to address these needs
The Council Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings from 2001, establishes basic rights for victims of crime within the EU. The Member States had to adapt their legislation in line with the requirements of the Framework Decision by 2006. Implementation reports published in 2004 and 2009 however concluded that this EU legislation had not been effective in achieving minimum standards for victims across the EU.
In 2011, the Commission therefore put forward a legislative package to strengthen the legal framework on victims' rights including a proposal for a directly binding and effectively enforceable Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
The Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime [Directive 2012/29/EU ] was adopted on 25 October 2012 and entered into force on 15 November 2012. The EU Member States have to implement the provisions into their national laws by 16 November 2015.
The new Directive replaces the 2001 Framework Decision and includes the minimum standards that were established there on the rights to access information, support, protection and basic procedural rights in criminal proceedings. However, the Directive will bring significant value added compared to the current legal framework. Apart from being enforceable under the Lisbon Treaty and generally containing more concrete rights for victims and clearer obligations for Member States, it goes further than the Framework Decision in many ways:
New rights and obligations:
- Family members of deceased victims are defined as victims and benefit from all rights in the Directive; family members of surviving victims have the right to support and protection. Family members are widely defined and include also non-married intimate partners.
- Accessible and understandable information – All communication with victims must be made in a way that victims understand (linguistically or otherwise); an emphasis is made on child-sensitive communication.
- Access to victim support – Member States must ensure access for victims and their family members to general victim support and specialist support, in accordance with their needs. The Directive specifies the basic level of services that need to be provided. Support is not dependent on the victim having reported the crime. Member States must facilitate referrals from police to victim support organisations.
- Specialist support services must as a minimum provide shelters and targeted and integrated support for victims with specific needs, such as victims of sexual violence, victims of gender based violence and victims of violence in close relationships, including trauma support and counselling.
- Review decision not to prosecute – Victims have the right to be informed about a decision not to proceed with prosecution of the offender and will also have the entirely new right to have such decision reviewed.
Individual assessment to identify vulnerability and special protection measures – All victims will be individually assessed to determine whether they are vulnerable to secondary or repeat victimisation or intimidation during criminal proceedings. If they have specific needs, a whole range of special measures will be put in place to protect them.
Children are always presumed vulnerable and particular attention will be paid to some categories of victims such as victims of terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking, gender-based violence, violence in close-relationships, sexual violence or exploitation, hate crime and victims with disabilities.
Strengthened rights and obligations compared to the Framework Decision:
- Information rights – Victims will receive a range of information from first contact with authorities. Victims will also receive information about their case, including a decision to end the investigation, not to prosecute and the final judgment (including the reasons for such decisions), and information on the time and place of the trial and the nature of the criminal charges.
- Interpretation and translation - During criminal proceedings, victims with an active role have the right to interpretation and translation to enable their participation. Victims can challenge a decision not to receive interpretation and translation. All victims will receive a translation of the acknowledgement of their complaint.
- Protection of all victims is reinforced – The privacy of victims and their family members must be respected and contact with the offender avoided (all new court buildings must have separate waiting areas).
- Restorative justice safeguards –Victims who choose to participate in restorative justice processes (referred to as mediation in the Framework Decision) must have access to safe and competent restorative justice services, subject to some minimum conditions set out in the Directive.
- Training of practitioners has become an obligation and emphasis is also put on cooperation between Member States and at national level and awareness raising about victims' rights.