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Victim support during the trial

It can be an exhausting experience to fall victim to crime and the trial can cause anxiety or be frightening. You can ask for support and advice throughout the legal process from Victim Support Finland.

We offer personal counselling by phone, in chat and face to face. You can also ask for a support person from our service point. With the help of Victim Support Finland you can face the trial as prepared as possible and aware of your rights and the course of the proceedings.

Before the trial

The District Court call the parties to an oral trial where written evidence is examined and, if necessary, the parties and the witnesses are heard. Minor and simpler criminal cases can also be solved without an oral hearing in a so-called written procedure if the suspect of the crime is an adult and he or she has admitted the act in the pre-trial investigation and if both parties give their consent to the procedure. In this case, there is necessarily no need for a trial. In written proceedings, the judge decides the case based on the written evidence without holding an oral hearing.

The District Court sends a summons to the trial indicating whether the victim must be present in person at the trial. The victim, as the witnesses, are then summoned on pain of paying a penalty, and the victim is entitled to a so-called allowance to witness (e.g. daily allowance and travel expenses).

The sessions of the District Court are public, and anyone can attend a session. In some sensitive cases requiring confidentiality, the case can be dealt with behind closed doors, in which case additional people will be removed from the courtroom. The District Court decides on the publicity of the trial on a case-to-case basis.

Arrival at the courthouse

The entry to the courthouse is mainly through security gates. There is an information board at the courthouse, where you can check the schedule and room numbers for the cases of the day. The info on each room’s cases can also be found next to the courtroom doors.

The court case will proceed at its own pace, so be prepared to wait. The schedule is only a guideline.

If you have not received permission to leave the courthouse, you should wait at the courthouse to be summoned to the courtroom, unless the judge separately announces that the case is being dealt with later than indicated in the summons. In that case, you may leave the courthouse until the new scheduled time. If you are a victim or a witness and you feel uncomfortable waiting with the opponent in the same room, you can ask for a separate waiting room. This should be done well in advance of the trial.

Usually, the start of a trial is told by announcing the name of the accused, after which all the people participating in the trial will go to the session room. You cannot leave the session room in the middle of the trial, but you can ask for a break from the judge if needed. Make sure your phone is on silent mode before entering the session room.

The trial may take several hours or sometimes a whole day. It is good to bring money for lunch or to bring something to eat during the break.

Attendees at the trial

Several persons are present at the trial, including:

  • The chairperson, i.e. a qualified judge
  • The jurors, i.e. the lay judges take part in the trial sessions in certain types of crimes. Sometimes there might be several judges instead of jurors.
  • Secretary
  • Prosecutor
  • The victim (plaintiff)
  • The defendant, i.e. the accused
  • The defendant’s and the plaintiff’s assistants, i.e. lawyers and licensed legal counsels
  • Witness
  • In addition, a support person, an interpreter and a guardian may be present. The victim and the witnesses may request a support person for the trial via Victim Support Finland.

The guardian’s deputy will be involved in cases in which the victim or the accused is a minor and where the guardian cannot look out for the interests of the minor. An adult can be assigned a guardian as well.

Sometimes the victim or the witness does not want to face the accused, in which case a screen can be installed as a visual barrier upon request, or the hearing can be arranged from another room via video connection. The court may also decide that the accused is not in the same room during the hearing.

The prosecutor, the victim and the defendant are collectively referred to as a party.

Processing the case in the District Court

The chairperson makes sure, at first, that everyone is present.

If all the invited are not present, the case may still be processed, or at least the people present still be heard. Often, however, the trial must be postponed to another day when everyone is present.

When the session is postponed, the present victims and witnesses have the right to allowance to witness.

After the presence is verified for the persons called to trial, the witnesses are removed from the session room to wait for their turn to testify. Their turn will be announced.

Presenting claims and answering

At the beginning of the session, the prosecutor and the victim or the victim’s assistant present their claims. The accused will answer the claims stating whether the claims are correct.

Presenting the case

The parties involved present their side of the story and the course of events and give grounds for their claims.

They also tell which written documents they will use as evidence, what they want to prove with that evidence and which persons they want to hear and why. The order in which things will be presented is always the same in the different phases of the trial: the prosecutor, the victim end the accused.

Argumentation

During the argumentation the written evidence and real evidence (such as video recordings) are reviewed, and the parties and the potential witnesses are heard.

The victim and the accused have the right to pose questions to each other and to the witnesses. If the parties involved have lawyers with them, the lawyers usually pose the questions for their clients. The trials are recorded. In certain cases, the hearing may have been recorded on video already during the pre-trial investigation and the video can then be used in court.

The victim, i.e. the plaintiff, is often asked to describe the events and their consequences. The plaintiff is heard for evidentiary purposes and must therefore tell the truth. The plaintiff has a negative truth duty, which means that he/she has no obligation to speak, but if he/she decides to speak he/she has an obligation to tell the truth.

The witness must tell the truth, i.e. to tell everything he/she knows and remembers of the events. The witness has a positive truth duty, which means that the witness must truthfully and without concealing anything state what he/she knows about the case, unless he/she has the right or obligation to refuse.

The accused is not obliged to tell the truth as no one can be forced to testify against themselves.

After the hearing, any claims for attendance at the trial will be asked. The victims and witnesses called to the trial by the prosecutor can be compensated with a daily allowance for the trial day, paid by the state. The travelling expenses by the cheapest transport and any necessary accommodation costs and possible loss of income can also be compensated for. The compensation paid by the state for coming to the trial is not the same as the compensation for damage that is demanded from the accused. If the plaintiff or the witness is unable to pay the costs of the trial themselves, they can apply for compensation in advance at the nearest police station, where the summons to the trial must be shown.

Closing statements

The parties involved make closing statements based on the evidence and tell their own views on how the case should be solved. Usually, the possible lawyers take care of the closing statements for all the parties involved.

Judgment

At the end of the trial, the session room will be emptied, and the court members will stay to decide on possible guilt and consequences if the judgment can be delivered at the end of the trial the same day.

Often the judgment is delivered later as a so-called reserved judgment in which case the time of delivery is announced at the end of the session. In this case, the judgment is sent by e-mail to the parties’ assistants or by agreement directly to the parties.

Appealing the judgment

Alongside the judgment, the District Court will give instructions on how to proceed if the parties want to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal. In such situations dissatisfaction must be reported within 7 days and the actual appeal must be made within 30 days calculated from the day following the date of the judgment. In some cases, you need a permission for further processing before the Court of Appeal. To appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court always requires a permission to appeal.

After the session

The trial days are often heavy and demanding. It is good to give yourself time to recover and to talk to someone about your experience. If you need someone to listen, you can call Victim Support Finland’s Helpline: 116 006.

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