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Strengthening victims’ rights in the EU

The issue of protecting victims in criminal proceedings has become a legislative priority at EU level in part due to the enhanced importance in the European debate of issues concerning the fundamental rights of accused and suspected persons, in particular the right to fair trial. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty created explicit EU competence to legislate on the rights of victims of crime, and the Stockholm programme established the intention to create an integrated and coordinated approach to victims within the EU.

Strengthening victims' rights in the EU

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In 2011 the Council of the EU passed a Resolution on a roadmap for strengthening the rights and protection of victims, in particular in criminal proceedings in which it welcomed the European Commission’s proposal for a package of measures on victims of crime. Since then two main instruments have been adopted. The first one is the Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. Replacing the Council framework decision 2001/220/JHA, this Directive establishes minimum standards and safeguards aiming at protecting and supporting victims of crime as well as family members of victims killed by a crime. Recently adopted, the second essential piece of legislation in this field is Regulation 606/2013 on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters which is designed to complement Directive 2011/99/EU on the European Protection Order in criminal matters. The deadline for the transposition of the two abovementioned Directives (Directive 2012/29/EU and Directive 2011/99/EU) is 2015. The Commission is thus currently concentrating its activity on ensuring correct and timely transposition of these two instruments.

The 2011 Roadmap on strengthening victims’ rights also includes objectives related to more specific areas such as compensation for victims of crime. Indeed, the Council has invited the Commission to review the 2004/80/EC Compensation Directive. However, at the moment of writing, no proposal has been put forward by the European Commission.

Overviews

Victims, DG Justice / European Commission

The website of the European Commission offers a good overview over objectives in terms of victims’ protection at EU level, achievements regarding the legislation adopted and potential future initiatives in the field.

Know your rights on the victims’ directive / Maria McDonald, 2012, 36p.

This guide consists of a detailed description of the 2012/29/EU Directive provisions, and it provides explanations related to the rights, support and protection a victim is entitled to before, during and for a period after criminal proceedings.

Analysis

Protecting victims: EU competences and mechanisms for safeguards / Jodie Blackstock, JUSTICE – UK, 2012, 13p.

This article provides an analysis of the 2012/29/EU Directive provisions and offers an overview on the five areas it covers: recognition and respect, protection, support, access to justice, compensation and restoration. Moreover, it tackles the challenges that might arise during implementation. Blackstock also discusses the possibilities of ensuring more protection for victims of crime at EU level.

A needed balance between security, liberty and justice. Positive signals arrive from the field of victims’ rights / Irene Wieczorek, in European Criminal Law Review, vol. 2, no. 2, 2012, pp. 141-157.

Irene Wieczorek analyses victims’ rights protection legislation at EU level. Focusing her study on the Council framework decision2001/220/JHA, the author notes the imbalance between the strong obligations Member States have in terms of the rights of participation and to information and the gaps that can be identified with respect to the rights to reparation and to receive support. Nevertheless, Wieczorek sees what was at the time the Commission’s proposal for a Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime as boosting the protection of victims’ rights. The author also mentions the potential impact of the negotiations between the Council and the Parliament on the spirit of the Directive.

Local and regional good practices on victims’ rights / P. Bárd and A. Borbíró, Centre for European Policy Studies, 2011, 37p.

Drafted before the adoption of the 2012/29/EU Directive and the 606/2013 Regulation, this report consists of an analysis of three different legal systems (Hungary, Sweden and UK). A comparison among these systems has enabled the authors to identify the particularities of good practice methods. The researchers go on to present elements of crucial importance in terms of victims’ rights protection: protection, support, access to justice, compensation and restoration.

Member States’ legislation, national policies, practices and approaches concerning the victims of crime / Center for the Study of Democracy, July 2009, 126 p.

This study assembles and analyses the results of an EU-wide research project concerning the situation of victims of crime. The central part of this study reviews the legislation, practices and policies concerning five different points: fundamentals of domestic notions of victims of crime; practical aspects of Member States’ legislation concerning victims of crime; information on victim assistance financial programmes and mechanisms; state authorities responsible for the protection of victims’ interests and their cooperation with non-governmental victim support organisations and relevant bodies from other Member States; information on non-governmental organisations active in the field of victim support.

The testimony of vulnerable victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings in the EU / Jenny McEwan, ERA Forum (2009) 10: 369-386

This article concerns the special needs for protection of certain categories of witnesses and victims in criminal proceedings: predominantly children, the mentally disabled and witnesses or victims who suffer from fear or distress when facing the defendant. It discusses the effectiveness of the main means of protecting these vulnerable persons already existing in the EU Member States. The author favours EU legislation ensuring minimum standards of protection and enabling the development of best practices.  [You must click on IP Authentication in order to access the article.]

Projects facilitating the implementation of EU legal instruments

Restorative justice in Europe: safeguarding victims and empowering professionals / (IARS) Independent Academic Research Studies, 12/2012 – 12/2014

Led by the British think tank Independent Academic Research Studies and conducted in five different countries (UK, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Greece and Germany), this project focuses on facilitating the implementation of the 2012/29/EU (particularly Article 12 and 24) and the 2011/99/EU Directives. The project is intended to produce scientific and practical results which will be put at the disposal of decision-makers, policy makers and practitioners during implementation.

Victim support services in the EU: an overview and assessment of victims’ rights in practice / Fundamental Rights Agency – report expected in the 1st half of 2014

The FRA seeks to develop an overview of the various victim support systems existing throughout the EU. Furthermore, the project will include a review of the national and regional practices and will identify the gaps that need to be dealt with in this field. This project’s report is due to be published in 2013. At the end of this project, the FRA also intends to put together an interactive web based “map of gaps” in victim support provision in the EU.

Substantial support for victims: towards a holistic response to crime. Latvia and beyond / Providus Centre for Public Policy, 2013

The goal of this project was to build a fairer and more effective victim protection system in Latvia. To do so, a study focused on the evaluation of the existing mechanism was conducted. Including a series of recommendations for the development of a sound system of victim support, this study also looks at the best practices among a few EU Member States: The Netherlands, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Scotland.

Victims in Europe: Implementation of the EU Framework Decision on the standing of victims in the criminal proceedings in the Member States of the European Union / APAV (Apoio à Vítima, Portuguese Association for Victim Support), on behalf of Victim Support Europe, 2009, 170 p.

This report presents the results of a research project developed by the umbrella organisation of victim services in Europe, Victim Support Europe. Its aim was to supplement the Commission’s efforts to evaluate the transposition and the implementation of the 2001 Framework Decision by the Member States. The need for such complementary projects was highlighted mainly by the general lack of correct and complete implementation. Even though this framework decision has now been replaced by Directive 2012/29/EU the findings of this research work are particularly relevant because they go into the factual organisation of victim support systems in the Member States and enable comparison.

Stakeholders’ views…

… on the “Roadmap for strengthening the rights and protection of victims of crime”

EC Victims’ Package falls short of expectations: where is the EU strategy on violence against women? / European Women’s Lobby, 2011

The EWL regrets that in its victims’ package the European Commission addresses the rights of victims of all types of crime without paying specific attention to female victims of crimes.

EESC seeks practical progress with implementation of EU Package of Rights for Victims, following vote at European Parliament / European Economic and Social Affairs Committee, September 2012

Insisting on the need for the Commission to work closely with the Member States in order to ensure the correct implementation of the EU directives in this field, the European Economic and Social Committee gives the example of Maggie Hughes – a mother whose son was seriously injured in an unprovoked attack in Crete – to emphasise the difficulties victims and their families face when EU coordination in this field is lacking.

… on the 2012/29/EU Directive

EU Directive on protection to victims of homophobic and transphobic crimes / (ILGA) International Lesbian and Gay Association Europe, April 2013

ILGA Europe notes that the victims’ rights directive acknowledges the specific protection needs of persons belonging to sexual minorities.

The new Directive on victims’ rights / (APAV) Portuguese Association for Victim Support, 2012

The Portuguese Association for Victim Support sees the 2012/29/EU directive as a clear step forward towards the protection of victims of crime .

… on the protection of victims’ rights at EU level

Strategy 2012-2015 and Manifesto 2014-2019 / Victim Support Europe

If VSE’s Strategy 2012-2015 focuses on addressing the three major challenges that have to be dealt with in order to ensure victims’ rights protection (challenges facing victims of crime, challenges facing victim support organisations, challenges in the formal criminal justice system), its Manifesto pleads for further development of the victims protection systems in order to improve the position of victims across the entire European Union.

Protecting victims in the EU: The Road ahead / Morten Kjaerum, Contribution to the Budapest conference 23-24 March 2011

In his introductory speech to the Budapest conference, FRA Director Morten Kjaerum presented the vision of the FRA on the situation of victims in general and victims in cross-border situations in particular, drawing attention to what the EU Member States need to keep in focus during the negotiations concerning the Victim’s Package and the new Roadmap.

Guidance on victims / European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), 2011
This paper contains fifteen brief, practical recommendations for those who come to handle victims during different stages of criminal proceedings within the justice systems of the Member States. They concern mainly the need to take into consideration the particular situation of each victim as well as the right to information of different kinds at all the different stages of the procedure, without going into sensitive issues which differ between the Member States such as whether or not the victim can be an active party to the proceedings.

Strengthening the victim’s role in criminal procedure / Lord Justice John Thomas, Contribution to the Budapest conference 23-24 March 2011

This paper suggests ways to ensure that the victim’s role and rights in criminal proceedings are strengthened. The author explains the reasons why he does not consider that a victim necessarily needs to have the option of being a formal party to the procedure for his or her interests to be taken into account, as long as other measures are taken that guarantee this. He insists on the necessity of creating a general culture of having regard to ensuring that victim’s rights are respected in all the different parts of the judicial criminal system. He considers that an EU Directive should recognise and properly identify the rights and standing of victims in criminal proceedings, and require that they be protected and enforced.

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