Directive 2012/29/EU (the Victims’ Rights Directive) establishes minimum standards for the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. It represents a milestone in the development of victims’ rights. It defines the scope of support services, guarantees the right to effective protection against secondary victimisation and comprehensively regulates the measures required for this purpose. It also sets out a clear commitment to the necessity of a decision concerning a victim’s civil claims as part of the criminal proceedings.
European Union (EU) Member States’ effective implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive is key to ensuring access to justice for victims of crime, as the EU Strategy on victims’ rights (2020–2025) underlines. Member States must adopt measures under the Victims’ Rights Directive to ensure that all victims, including vulnerable ones, can exercise their rights and hence gain effective access to criminal justice in practice. However, in some Member States, progress towards guaranteeing victims’ rights in practice remains slow.
In 2022, the European Commission adopted its evaluation of the Victims’ Rights Directive. This aimed to identify whether and to what extent the Victims’ Rights Directive has fulfilled its objectives. Where necessary, it suggests legislative proposals to further strengthen victims’ rights.
The evaluation report draws on, among other things, the lessons learned from the implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive. The 2022 evaluation shows the directive’s added value.
However, the evaluation also points out that not all victims can fully rely on their rights. That is because some of the directive’s articles lack clarity and precision. More specifically, it says, shortcomings relate to victims’ access to information, support services and protection in line with their individual needs. In addition, it notes that victims should be able to take a more active role in criminal proceedings and have easier access to compensation.4 This would allow them to see that justice is done for them.
Accordingly, following the evaluation, the European Commission plans to propose revising the Victims’ Rights Directive in 2023.In support of the evaluation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has provided written input to the Commission and made a number of interventions – based on its research evidence – during meetings of the Commission’s Victims’ Rights Platform.
The current report focuses on two areas that are key to the effective implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive in practice. The Commission’s evaluation also addresses them. These are:
The report also addresses a third area, which is partially addressed by the Commission’s evaluation and warrants further attention given the practical challenges in the context of implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive by EU Member States; namely reporting by victims.
The report is based on evidence gathered through desk research in 27 Member States. The examples from different Member States are intended to be illustrative. They are selected to reflect the depth of information provided, geographical spread, and similarities and differences between approaches adopted.
Member States should ensure that there is a state body responsible for ensuring that sufficient victim support organisations exist, that performance standards for such organisations are clearly defined, and that compliance with these standards is monitored to secure the delivery of victims’ rights in practice. In this regard, Member States should consider introducing measures to strengthen and further develop the system of organisations providing victim support services. This implies, in particular, working towards a comprehensive, joined-up structure of victim support services serving different groups of victims. Improving the coordination of support services and increasing the level of public funding to provide adequate support to meet the needs of victims of different types of crime can help achieve this. FRA stands ready to support Member States in developing performance standards and shaping cooperation.
Member States should consider measures to enhance structures that facilitate crime reporting. The specific circumstances of particular victim groups – such as women who are victims of (intimate partner) violence, or victims of hate crime, for example – should be accommodated. This should include, among other things, concrete measures to enhance trust in law enforcement, and setting up alternative reporting options, such as third-party reporting. Where third-party reporting mechanisms exist, the procedural rules should ensure that their use is not unnecessarily limited in practice, relevant measures should be put in place to encourage their systematic use, and third-party bodies should be trained to respond effectively to the rights and needs of victims. In addition, Member States should ensure there are further specific measures in place, such as proactive monitoring by independent bodies, to give victims living in institutional settings a practical way to safely report their victimisation.
Member States are called on to find ways to ensure that all victims can reliably benefit, in practice, from protection measures, as needed, in accordance with Article 23 of the Victims’ Rights Directive. Member States should ensure that, in line with Article 25 of the Victims’ Rights Directive, police officers are sufficiently trained to protect victims from repeat and secondary victimisation. Victims should also have effective judicial remedies at their disposal if they want to challenge the scope or lack of measures in place to protect them from secondary and repeat victimisation, in accordance with Article 47(1) of the Charter. Member States are also encouraged to exchange and draw on promising practices that exist in relation to certain categories of victims, such as the Barnahus model with respect to prevention of secondary victimisation of child victims.