What is the victims’ directive?
The directive 2012/29/EU (“victims’ directive”) regulates the rights of victims of crime concerning information, support and protection provided to them, as well as their participation in criminal procedures. There are 32 articles in the victims’ directive, which are binding on the EU member states, which have been divided in to six chapters.
In Finland, the implementation of the directive in accordance with proposals has brought changes to legislation, but also has a significant difference on the position of the victim in other ways. The majority of the legislation changes came into force on 1/3/2016.
The directives are one form of EU legislation. Usually national implementation requires legislation to be amended so that its content corresponds to the content of the directive. In addition, implementation may involve the implementation of other procedures required by the directive. The EU Commission monitors the implementation of directives in the member states.
The implementation of the victims’ directive in Finland
The proposals concerning the implementation were prepared by two different bodies in Finland during the years 2013-2015: 1) the working group focusing on legislative changes appointed by the Ministry of Justice and 2) the broad-based victim-political committee jointly appointed by three ministries (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Ministry of the Interior).
The legal working group’s proposal and the provided statements were the basis for the government bill presented on 15/10/2015 “law for amending the Criminal Investigations Act and some other related laws” (E 66/2015 vp). Amendments were made to ten different laws concerning the victims’ rights to information, translations of documents and protection. The proposed laws entered into force on 1/3/2016. Already before this, amendments had been made to the Procedural Code in order to satisfy the conditions of the directive.
The victim-political committee on the other hand prepared for the implementation of the victims’ directive in respect of measures, which did not concern legislation. In the final report of the committee “From legislation to good practices – a proposal for developing the position of victims”, there are two types of proposals:
- The committee proposed, how the implementation of the directive’s objectives could be promoted in other ways than with legislation. In this connection, it proposed that working groups would be established for developing different good practices (e.g. Procedures) for improving the position of victims.
- The committee also made a proposal for the implementation of obligations concerning victim support services. The committee defined the minimum level that the directive required for support services, and dealt with the organisation, funding and production of these services.
In an interim report, the committee made a proposal for preparing legislation concerning a victim of crime payment. The law concerning a victim of crime payment was adopted in the spring of 2015.
Most significant changes in law
Obligation to inform the victim’s rights
The new Section 18 of Chapter 4 of the Criminal Investigations Act requires preliminary investigations authorities to notify the plaintiff about his/her rights in terms of support services, advice, interpretation and translations, compensation, protection, reimbursement of costs and information on the handling of the case in criminal proceedings. There are nine sections in Section 18, in which case “the preliminary investigations authority must notify the plaintiff without undue delay to the extent that it is necessary in terms of personal matters of the plaintiff and the nature of the crime”.
The new Section 9 a of Chapter 11 of the Criminal Investigations Act requires preliminary investigation authorities to carry out a personal assessment on the plaintiff in order to clarify whether he/she is in need of particular protection and whether he/she requires any special procedures during the preliminary investigation and trial. The assessment is usually carried out in cooperation with the victim and it takes in to account the victim’s personal characteristics, conditions and the nature of the crime.
In preliminary investigation, these special protection procedures concern the questioning facilities and the interrogator, e.g. his/her gender. At trial, the procedures refer to e.g. questioning the victim from behind a screen, via a video connection or without the presence of the accused or the presence of an audience. In some cases, the victim interrogation can be recorded on video and the recording can be used as evidence during the trial.
The police have a separate form for the personal assessment. In addition, a “Guide for the assessment of the protection needs of a victim of crime” has been made for the police, which includes instructions on preparing a personal assessment and referring the victim to support services.
Referral to support services
An addition was made to Chapter 4 Section 10 of the Criminal Investigations Act concerning the plaintiff’s need for special protection and his/her personal characteristics as new reasons, on which basis the preliminary investigation official must provide the submission of the plaintiff’s contact details to a support service provider. Previously, the only reason was the nature of the crime. Thus, the duty of the police to refer victims of crime to support services was also strengthened with the directive.
In addition, legislation was amended in such a way that authorities must report victims of crime, when he/she has personally requested, about any prisoner or person in pre-trial custody is released or has escaped, when it is a case of certain legally determined crimes concerning life, health, freedom or peace or sexual crimes.
The directive has also increased the rights of victims of crime to the translations of documents.
A brochure Information on the rights of victims of crime (suomeksi |på svenska) has been prepared under the management of the Ministry of Justice, which takes into account the improvements to the positions of victims of crime that have been brought by the directive.
Summary of the legal amendments brought by the directive (only in Finnish and Swedish):
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