How many people are victims of crime in the EU?
Crime can affect us all. In fact, millions of people in the European Union fall victim to crime every year. According to Eurostat data, around 25 million criminal offences against persons or property, excluding minor crimes, are recorded annually in the European Union. Yet most crimes are never reported, which leads to an estimate that there is likely to be up to 75 million direct victims of crime every year in the EU.
What's more, crime often affects not only the direct victim but also those who are close to them. In particular, family members suffer from the crime. They may be affected because they help the person overcome the ordeal, recover from physical injury, or they may face financial difficulties as a result of the crime or have to deal with the loss of a family member.
What does the European Union do to help victims of crime?
The Commission proposed the EU directive on minimum standards for victims in May 2011 (IP/11/585 and MEMO/11/310) to improve rights for crime victims. These rules were backed by the European Parliament in September 2012 (MEMO/12/659), followed by adoption by the Council of the EU in October 2012 (see IP/12/1066).
The new rules lay down a set of binding rights for victims and obligations for the Member States. The Directive applies in the Member States as of 16 November 2015. This means that by this date the national authorities had to inform the Commission about their national measures transposing the new EU rules and start applying the rules in practice.
How the new rules are different in comparison to the old ones?
The Victims’ Rights Directive replaces the Framework Decision from 2001. The new rules lay down new rights such as the rights of victim’s family members, the right to understand and be understood, the right to access support services and the right to individual assessment. They also reinforce the existing rights, including the right to be informed.
The Directive, in comparison to the Framework Decision, ensures a better enforcement of victims’ rights. In particular, the European Commission has an obligation to enforce the new rules, by legal means as necessary, and the European Court of Justice has a full jurisdiction over the new rules.
Who is a victim under the new rules?
The Victims’ Rights Directive lays down a broad definition of a direct victim of crime. It encompasses not only direct victims of crime, but also family members of victims who die as a result of crime. The definition of victim includes every person that suffered harm from a crime. The suffering may be objectively measurable (such as the economic loss or physical harm) or more individual (such as mental or emotional harm). The harm must be nonetheless directly caused by a crime. The crimes are defined in the national criminal law.
There is no obligation to report a crime to be a victim of crime. Underreporting of crimes is currently a big problem in all countries of the EU. What we see reported to the police is the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of suffering and need for assistance from victims who have never reported their crimes. The Victims’ Rights Directive applies to such victims as well. In particular, it provides for the right to information and the right to access support services.
When victims die as a result of the crime, their family members who suffer from this crime become victims too. Such family members become indirect victims of crime and will benefit from the same rights as direct victims, including the right to information, support, protection and compensation. Family members of surviving victims are not considered as victims of crime, but they have the right to support and protection.
When and to whom do the new rules apply?
The new rules apply as of 16 November 2015, but they are not limited to crimes committed after this date. The Victims’ Rights Directive applies if the crime was committed in the European Union or if the proceeding takes place in the European Union. For instance, the Directive will apply in cases related to crimes committed during the Second World War, if the proceedings take place after 16 November 2016. Likewise, the Directive will apply to international crimes, if the proceedings take place in the European Union after 16 November 2015.
The new rules are applicable to all victims of crime, without discrimination, including nationality or residence status. The application of the Victims’ Rights Directive is not limited to EU citizens.
Does the Directive apply to undocumented refugees?
In recent months, the EU has had many vulnerable people - including unaccompanied minors - arrive in the EU. Some of them are already victims of crime, others may become in the future, in particular because of their vulnerability and undocumented legal status. Since the Victims’ Rights Directive applies to all victims of crimes if the crime was committed in the European Union or proceedings take place in the European Union, it will apply also to undocumented migrants. The underlying principle of the Directive is such that all victims of crime should have access to justice and should receive support and protection according to their specific needs.
What are the victims’ rights under the new rules?
The new rules lay down a set of binding rights for victims and corresponding obligations for the Member States. In particular the Directive lays down the following rights:
-Right to understand and to be understood
Under the new rules, all communication with victims must be given in a simple and accessible language. The form of communication must be adapted to the specific needs of every victim and goes beyond of the victims’ linguistic capacity. It must be adapted in particular to the victims’ age, language or any disability.
-Right to information about the victims’ rights
The new rules require that national authorities give victims a range of information concerning their rights. For example, they will be informed about the type of support they can obtain, the procedure to make a complaint, how and under what conditions they can obtain protection, legal advice or compensation. The information must be given from the first contact with a competent authority and without delay.
-Right to information about the case
If criminal proceedings are launched, victims - if they so wish - must be informed about their case including the time and place of the trial, any final judgement or important steps in the case. The victims should also be offered the possibility to be notified about the release or escape of their offender. The victims have a choice whether they want to receive such information or not. If they decide to be informed, the authorities are obliged to inform them.
-Right to interpretation and translation
If victims do not understand or speak the language of the criminal proceedings, they have a right to receive interpretation and translation. The interpretation and translation is free of charge and is available for at least any interviews or questioning by the judicial authorities before and during the trials. It is not however an automatic right. The victims must request it.
The new rules do not limit the right to translation and interpretation to EU languages. Everyone has a right to translation and interpretation and everyone has a right to understand and to be understood.
Of course, in practice there may be difficulties to find translators, in particular for uncommon languages. Since a physical presence of a qualified translator sometimes may not be possible, the Directive provides that communication technology such as videoconferencing, telephone or internet may be used. The Directive does not require for a translation in a native language of the victim, but into a language that the victim understands.
-Right to support
Member States must guarantee that victims have access to support services and must facilitate the referral from authorities to such services. Support must be free of charge and confidential and available also to victims who do not officially report the crime. Support must include both general support services and specialist support services, such as shelters, trauma support and counselling specifically adapted to different types of victims. The support services may be organised by the national authorities along and/or in collaboration with the civil society.
-Right to participate in criminal proceedings
Victims will get a more active role in criminal proceedings. They will have the right to be heard and be informed about the different steps of the proceedings. In particular, they must be informedif the offender will not be prosecuted and will have right to have such a decision reviewed if they do not agree with the decision. They also have the right to a decision on compensation from the offender in the course of a criminal proceeding (or other proceeding, if that is foreseen by the national law).
-Right to safeguards in the context of restorative justice
The Victims’ Rights Directive does not give a right to use restorative justice services. It does not regulate the restorative justice services either. The new rules ensure however that, if restorative justice proceedings are used in the national system, they are used in the interest of the victim and the victims are well protected from the risks of further suffering related to contacts with the offender.
-Right to protection and to individual assessment
Victims must be protected from the offender and throughout the criminal proceedings. In particular, when necessary, the victims should benefit from the right to avoid contacts with the offender, the interviews of victims should be conducted without unjustified delay after the complaint, and their number should be limited to a minimum, also the medical examinations should be kept to a minimum.
-Right to protection of privacy
Victims have a right to have their privacy protected by the competent authorities during the criminal proceedings. In practice it means that their personal data, which may be gathered during the criminal proceeding, including during the individual assessment of the victims’ needs, must be used with a great caution and in accordance with the national rules on data protection. In particular public dissemination of any information that could lead to the identification of a child must be prevented.
The new rules also require national authorities to take necessary measures to encourage the media to take self-regulatory measures to protect the privacy, personal integrity and personal data of victims.
-Right to individual assessment of victims’ protection needs
Every victim of crime has a right to protection. But not every victim has the same protection needs. In particular during the criminal proceedings, victims are often at a risk of the offenders’ threatening or suffering again from recalling the crime. Contact with the offender, inappropriate questions by questioners or a large number of interviews can increase the risk of such unnecessary suffering (the risk of secondary and repeat victimisation). Some victims are also more vulnerable than others. For instance, typically, a victim of domestic violence would need a different kind of protection than a victim of a robbery.
Under the new EU rules, every victim has a right to individual assessment of his or her individual protection needs and to be protected from any further harm that is related to the victims’ participation in the criminal proceedings. In practice, it means that the competent authorities (such as police, prosecutor and/or specially trained staff) will assess the individual needs of every victim, and identify the victims who are the most vulnerable. Such victims will be protected by specific measures such as interviews being carried out by specially trained professionals, no visual contact with the offender, a possibility to be heard in the courtroom without being present there.
Under the Victims’ Rights Directive, children are always considered as vulnerable victims. As such they should always benefit from the specific protection.
The Directive also gives child victims additional rights such as a possibility of having interviews audiovisually recorded and used as an evidence in court, a right to a special representative where there is a risk of a conflict of interest with parents, a right to be represented by a lawyer in the child’s own name (if a child has a right to lawyer).
Moreover, the Directive sets up a general principle according to which the child’s best interest should always prevail in the application of the Directive.
Who will benefit from the new rules?
Not only victims and their family members will benefit from the new rules. National governments and judicial and law enforcement authorities will benefit from a higher level of trust from citizens in their national judicial systems. This should lead to a higher crime reporting rate and better cooperation from victims - which in turn improves the chances of bringing criminal cases to prosecution and sentencing. Everyone will benefit from safer environments and more inclusive societies.
The European Union as a whole will benefit from strengthened victims' rights in a fairer, safer and more inclusive area of freedom, security and justice.
What must the Member States do to comply with the Victims’ Rights Directive?
The Victims’ Rights Directive imposes clear obligations on Member States to implement the victims’ rights into their national laws and to apply them in practice. These rules must be implemented by 16 November 2015.
In practice it means that by this deadline the national governments must adopt new laws transposing the Directive into national law (which includes amendments to the national codes of procedures and/or adoption of separate acts on victims’ rights) and inform the Commission about these laws.
The Member States must also set up the necessary supporting structures that will ensure that the laws are applied in practice. It includes organising and setting up support services, (general and specialist) and organising training for persons who come in contact with victims of crime.
In particular, the training for practitioners that are likely to come into contact with victims of crime is important to ensure that victims’ rights become a reality in every Member State. In that regard, the Directive requires Member States to ensure that officials, such as police officers and court staff, receive both general and specialist training to a level appropriate to their contact with victims. The objective of such training is to increase their awareness of victims' needs and enable them to deal with victims in an impartial, respectful and professional manner. The Member States should also request that there is appropriate training available for other professionals that come into contact with victims such as judges, prosecutors and lawyers.
The Victims’ Rights Directive is a minimum standards directive. Member States may go beyond the rights set up in the Directive and deepen them and/or give victims even more rights.
What is the role of the European Commission?
The European Commission is bound to enforce EU law. The Commission is carefully monitoring the progress of transposition of the Victims’ Rights Directive into national law. The Commission will also continue to assist Member States in implementing the Directive, in particular by organising bilateral and regional meetings and by participating in other fora regrouping experts in the field. Notably, the Commission will cooperate closely with the upcoming Presidency of the European Union and with civil society.
If Member States fail to fulfil their obligations, the Commission will not hesitate to take legal steps to enforce full compliance with the rules.
What are other EU rules in the area of victims’ rights?
The Victims’ Rights Directive is a horizontal directive in the sense that it applies to all victims of crimes. There are however more specific EU rules, that apply to specific categories of victims. Such rules include in particular:
The European Union has also adopted specific measures that aim at effective protection of victims of violence and harassment (see IP/15/3045).
These rules are composed of a directive and regulation to cover the different types of protection orders across the Member States:
-The Directive on the European Protection Order (EPO) - Persons who benefit from a protection order in criminal matters issued in one Member State can request a European Protection Order that allows for protection also in other Member States.
-The Regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters - Persons who benefit from a civil law protection order issued in the Member State of his or her residence may invoke it directly in other Member States by presentinga certificate to competent authorities.
Both tools apply in the Member States since 11 January 2015.
Moreover in the area of compensation to crime victims, there are rules on compensation for crime victims. According to the Directive, persons who have fallen victim to intentional, violent crime in another EU Member States can receive fair compensation from the national systems of compensation.
For more information:
-Christian WIGAND (+ 32 2 296 22 53)
-Melanie VOIN (+ 32 2 295 86 59)
-Justyna MILANOWSKA (+32 2 299 42 46)