Access to justice, including rights of crime victims

New strategic guidelines in the area of freedom, security and justice by the European Council placed increasing mutual trust, strengthening the protection of victims and reinforcing the rights of accused persons and suspects high on the EU policy agenda. Many EU Member States adopted new laws or reformed existing laws and policies in this area, while efforts continued at UN, Council of Europe and EU level to strengthen the rule of law, judicial independence and the efficiency of justice systems, as cornerstones of a democratic society.

The five-year transition period since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty came to an end, enabling the European Commission and the CJEU to fully assess the transposition by the Member States of police and criminal justice measures. The most comprehensive EU-wide and worldwide survey to date on women’s experiences of violence revealed alarmingly high rates of violence against women and provided much-needed evidence to help Member States develop legal and policy responses to this issue.

FRA conclusions

In 2014, EU Member States adopted various measures following the transposition and implementation of the EU directives on the right to translation and interpretation, and to information in criminal proceedings.

  • For these rights to become a reality, EU Member States are, however, encouraged to further review their existing laws and complement them with relevant policy measures, as well as exchange promising practices in this area to ensure implementation in practice.

In the run-up to the transposition deadline of November 2015 for the Victims’ Directive, legislation on the rights of victims of crime improved in EU Member States.

  • FRA evidence on the extent and nature of support services for victims shows, however, that the actual situation on the ground needs to be strengthened.
  • EU Member States should adopt further measures to establish comprehensive victim support services and enable victims to access those services, for example by providing clear information to victims, ensuring effective referral of victims – particularly certain groups of victims who may have specific protection needs – and training police officers and legal practitioners in how to establish trust and confidence with victims and support them throughout proceedings. In addition, Member States should strengthen efforts to gather data regularly on how crime victims have accessed their rights, including improving data collection and ensuring the effective use of that data to inform relevant policies aimed at combating crime, supporting victims and empowering them to exercise their rights.

FRA survey on violence against women showed alarmingly high rates of incidents of physical and sexual violence, alongside psychological abuse, harassment and stalking, in all 28 EU Member States.

  • In addition, the survey revealed the significant number of women who have experienced abuse in childhood at the hands of an adult.
  • EU Member States should review their legislation to ensure that it is in line with the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention and the EU Victims’ Directive, both of which set new standards for responding to victims of gender-based violence. In this context, the need for all EU Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention at their earliest opportunity is to be highlighted. Going further, Member States should develop and implement national action plans to combat violence against women on the basis of the FRA evidence, alongside other data that draw directly on women’s experiences of violence.