New rights for victims of crime in Europe - Addressing unequal treatment across Europe
One in four people across Europe becomes a victim of crime each year. But the way in which victims are treated varies greatly from country to country. (6)
Victims of crime get a good deal in the UK and Ireland
Victim Support is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and most highly developed victims' service organisation in Europe. As well as our work as a service provider, we have achieved major successes in increasing understanding and awareness of the and ensuring better recognition of victims' rights.
Most of the rights set out in the Framework Decision now apply within the UK and Ireland. In recent years, following major campaigns by Victim Support, there has been enormous growth in new policies and provision for victims and witnesses. Increasingly, our governments and the various criminal justice agencies have become more aware of, and responsive to, victims' legitimate interests in the criminal justice process.
Victims' rights are now firmly on the political agenda and minimum standards of service have been set out, for example in the Victim's charter (7) published by the Home Office in England and Wales. Service standards cover such issues as rights to information about the progress of a case, well-established rights to compensation, access to Victim Support's services and how to complain if the standards are not met.
In addition, criminal justice agencies are gradually becoming more aware of the impact of crime on victims and the need to avoid secondary victimisation caused by insensitive treatment. Staff training in victim awareness is now increasingly being offered and some criminal justice agencies employ specialist staff for their victim contact work. However, such progress has not been consistent across Europe and in some Member States victims' rights are still in their infancy. Victim Support is in contact with many people who have become the victims of crime while travelling to a European country other than their own. Frequently, these people have encountered a range of problems, the most common of which are:
- lack of access to information about the police investigation and/or trial
- no information on the release of the offender - either on bail or from prison
- failure to provide necessary compensation.
There is evidence that some legal jurisdictions in Europe have been reformed in favour of victims of crime. But progress is patchy especially in relation to victims' rights to information provision, protection and compensation.
Another major difference between EU Member States is the presence or absence of a well-established victims' organisation: both to provide direct services to victims and witnesses and to champion their interests and promote public awareness. Echoing the principles in the Framework Decision are the findings of research into the treatment of victims of crime in 22 European criminal justice systems: "The state, in co-operation with the criminal justice authorities and partners, should promote the creation of a national victim support organisation where lacking. These organisations not only improve the provision of free and easily accessible assistance to victims, but they are also important partners for the criminal justice authorities in providing information, legal assistance and practical help to victims." (8)
Victim Support organisations are well established in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, several countries in the EU have no national victims' organisation. In fact, when asking about the help received from a specialist victims' agency, the International Crime Victims Survey found that victims in the UK were offered the most support (Ireland was not included in the study.) (9)
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