The Victims’ Directive, formally referred to as ‘Directive 2012/29/EU’, came into effect on 16thNovember 2015 and aims to grant equal rights, support and protection to all victims of crime across all member states.
A critical component to a victim’s experience in the criminal justice arena is to be able to have full access to necessary information about their case and, if this information is in a language the victim does not understand, to have this material interpreted and translated for them free of charge. Article 6 and 7, respectively, aim to ensure these rights are met and will provide the necessary framework to ensure that a victim receives a just and equal experience during any criminal proceeding.
- Article 6 – Right to receive information about their case; and
- Article 7 – Right to interpretation and translation.
The Victims’ Code in the UK already satisfies the minimum standards in regards to information about their case and the right to interpretation and translation. The progress we have made offers victims and witnesses the ability to fully understand the state of the criminal proceedings and all relevant information related to their case when the Code is properly applied; this is essential to fairness and transparency. Within Europe, not just in the United Kingdom, all of us need to feel confident that we will receive necessary information about our case in a language and format that we understand. If this standard is not delivered, we would, rightly, consider ourselves to have been further victimised and delivered an injustice. Imagine not being told whether your trial was going to proceed or not, or not being given the time and place of the trial or the nature of the charges against the offender. You would be right to think that there is a significant lack of justice. We need justice systems to work and where the victim or witness is put at the centre of the proceedings in reality as well as rhetoric.
With migration and the movement of people across borders affecting all member states, it has become increasingly important that victims and witnesses have the right to information and interpretation and translation, as referred to in Articles 6 and 7. Many of those crossing borders are vulnerable and, sadly, at high risk of exploitation and victimisation.
Article 6, in short, establishes that all member states must provide information to victims about their case, the final judgement in a trial, and whether the defendant remanded in custody, prosecuted or sentenced for criminal offences is released. These clauses aim to give all victims access to essential information vital to their participation in criminal proceedings.
The right to interpretation and translation in Article 7 includes ‘information essential to their rights in criminal proceedings’ and how ‘an oral translation or oral summary of essential documents may be provided instead of written translation’, to name but a few. The former provides victims the necessary right to understand what is going on during any interviews or questions during criminal proceedings and will assist to prevent any miscarriage of justice. The right to translation services is also of critical importance and, in addition, provisions must be made for victims who cannot read or write, whether that be in their own language or another.
The proper implementation of the Directive will help secure victims the ability to engage with any criminal proceedings despite having reading difficulties or those proceedings not taking place in the victims’ own language. This will help a victim or witness both understand the process and give the best possible evidence they can in court.
As noted, migration of people affects all member states and there is a disproportionate amount of undocumented migrants exposed to violence and exploitation work. Articles 6 and 7, among others, when enshrined in each country’s laws and properly applied, will ensure that undocumented migrants, irrespective of residence standing, are protected as victims and are given legislative tools necessary to exercise their rights; this is, surely, one of the key tests to apply to any society that promotes the ideals of fairness, justice and regard for the weakest and most needy. However, despite this being a non-negotiable element to the Directive, how these standards are incorporated will depend largely on how each EU state implements its plan to deliver on this. It is incumbent on us all to monitor developments and, where necessary, engage in the process of holding all governments to account.