Why is the Commission updating the rules?
Victims of crime deserve the best possible support and protection. The European Union has rules in place to ensure this since 2012.
The evaluation of the Victims’ Rights Directive completed by the Commission last year demonstrated that the current Directive, adopted in 2012, requires targeted revision, so that victims fully benefit from their rights.
It is also important to note that minimum standards have evolved in the past 10 years. This is linked to the developments in justice (child-friendly and victim-centred justice), society (e.g., increased need for coordinated approach to ensure constant availability of the victims’ support services during crises (such as health crises) and developments of technology (digitalisation, and availability of new technologies to victims’ support, protection, and access to justice).
In this context, it is necessary to have in place more far-reaching minimum standards to ensure the effectiveness of the Victims’ Rights Directive.
How will the reform concretely improve the situation for victims?
The proposed amendments will ensure victims can fully benefit from their rights. It will bring more precision to victims’ rights under the Victims’ Rights Directive. For example, in order to ensure an effective provision of information to all the victims, this proposed revision provides for an obligation for Member States to set up Victims’ helplines with an EU wide telephone number: 116 006, where victims can benefit from information about their rights, emotional support, and be redirected to specialised support services or helplines if needed. Victims would be able to benefit from strengthened individual assessment (with the individual assessment of specific needs being initiated from the first contact with the authorities) and the availability of protection orders, following the individual assessment. The most vulnerable victims would have better access to targeted and integrated specialist support services, and a possibility to rely on free of charge psychological support for as long as necessary if needed based on their specific needs. Victims would be able to participate in criminal proceedings more actively, as they would receive support at the courts and would have a right to challenge decisions that affect their rights as victims of crime, independently of their formal status under national law in the criminal proceedings. The revision also aims to reinforce the right to compensation. Victims should have the rights to obtain a decision on compensation as part of the criminal proceedings – without needing to have recourse to separate proceedings. Once the judge decides on compensation from the offender, the State should pay this compensation to the victim quickly after the judgment and recuperate the amount of the compensation from the offender in a second stage.
How does this directive relate to the proposal for a directive combatting domestic violence?
The Victims’ Rights Directive is a horizontal instrument that applies to all victims of all crimes. The proposal for combatting violence against women and domestic violence is sectoral legislation that provides for specific rights responding more directly to the specific needs of victims of violence against women and domestic violence. The proposal for combatting violence against women and domestic violence applies in addition to the Victims’ Rights Directive.
This revision strengthens the general rights of all victims, without affecting the rights of victims of violence against women and domestic violence. For instance, in relation to victims’ right to access information, under the revision of the Victims’ Rights Directive, all victims will benefit from the general victims’ helpline using the 116 006 telephone number, whereas under the proposal on combatting violence against women and domestic violence, victims of such crimes would also benefit from the specialist helplines using 116 016 telephone number that will respond more directly to their specific needs. The two helplines would coexist. In relation to victims’ participation in criminal proceedings, under the revision of the Victims’ Rights Directive, all victims of all crimes, including victims of violence against women and domestic violence, would benefit from improved participation in criminal proceedings.
How will victims obtain compensation from the offender?
Under the revision of the Victims’ Rights Directive, victims would receive a decision on compensation from the offender during the criminal proceedings, without having to engage in additional, often long and costly, civil proceedings. Moreover, once victims receive a decision on compensation from the offender in the criminal proceedings, the amount of this compensation should be paid to the victim by the state in due time after the decision. The state would then be able to recover this amount of compensation from the offender.
What help will be given to people who fall victim to a crime abroad?
People who fall victim to crime in other EU Member States will be able to continue to rely on their rights to lodge a complaint in their country of residence, which will then forward the complaint to the EU country in which the crime took place. This proposal further strengthens the option for victims to participate in criminal proceeding via teleconferencing. Under the current 2012 Victims’ Rights Directive such a possibility was only mentioned in relation to gathering evidence from victims in cross-border cases and not when it comes to participation in criminal proceedings.
What additional support will be offered to vulnerable victims?
Victims with specific needs, such as children, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, victims of hate crime or victims in detention would benefit from the following rights:
- following the individual assessment of their specific needs (which is an already existing concept under the current Directive), victims in need of psychological help should be able to access free psychological support for as long as necessary – without limiting such support to only a few sessions, as it is often the case currently.
- Child victims should be able to rely on targeted, multi-agency support and protection services, that should be provided in the same premises.
- Victims with disabilities would have their rights strengthened by ensuring that they can rely on accessibility standards and new technology when exercising their rights under the Victims’ Rights Directive.
What are the next steps?
Before this proposal for a Directive comes into application in the Member States, it must be first adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. Once it is adopted, Member States would have two years to transpose it into their national laws. An exception is made for the use of electronic means of communication, where the Member States would have four years to set up the necessary structures.