A core component of the Victims’ Directive (2012/29/EU) comes under Article 8, ‘Right to access victim support services’, and Article 9, Support from victim support services.’ It sets out the requirements for member states to ensure access to victim support services and the minimum support such services must provide, respectively.
The consequences of being a victim of crime can be devastating so it is essential that there are organisations to provide care and support to the victims (and their relatives), according to their needs. In the United Kingdom, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime details the requirements to which all criminal justice agencies must adhere in order to provide at least a minimum standard of service to victims and their family members.
For example, the Code states that victims are entitled to receive a needs assessment following their experience to help work out what support they may need, information on what to expect from the criminal justice system and to be referred to organisations that support victims of crime.
Citizens Advice Witness Service has been providing vital services to victims and witnesses since April 2015 and has over 2,500 volunteers and 300 staff offering support and care in every criminal court in England and Wales; this service was previously run by Victim Support which continues to offer services to victims of crime alongside a range of different charities across England and Wales and the UK as a whole. The progress we have made in supporting victims in the UK has been impressive even though more always needs to be done and we need to see high quality assured service delivery replicated across the continent. This EU Directive and these Articles help pave the way towards this.
Article 8 articulates the need for a right to be able to access victim support services. S.1 states that victims shall have access to support services which are: free of charge; act in the interest of victims before, during and after criminal proceedings; and give access to support for family members of the victim. To ensure that victims are directed towards the relevant support agencies, S.2 declares that Member States shall facilitate referrals to the relevant entities. The importance of this should not be underestimated; victim support services that exist without receiving accurate and timely referrals from criminal justice agencies are potentially unable to deliver their much needed services. This component of the Article creates a protocol which guarantees that victims can receive the appropriate level of support they need because they are being explicitly directed to service suppliers.
The emphasis of Article 9 is on the provisions to which such support services must adhere. S.1 of Article 9 outlines the necessity for states to provide information, advice and support to victims in regards to compensation, preparation for the trial, specialist support services, and emotional, psychological and financial support, to name the key areas. Access to this information must surely be a prerequisite if victims are to see the delivery of effective justice and receive access to the necessary support. And we need to recognise that some victims, for example those who are subjected to domestic abuse, sexual violence and human trafficking, require a tailored approach and the provision of specialist support services. Effective referral, good information and high quality support services, adequately resourced will go a way towards meeting this need and will, in turn, assure victims in general that they will be well supported.
This links with S.2 which puts particular attention on the specific needs of victims who have suffered substantial harm due to the severity of the crime. Again, a tailored approach is needed in such cases in order to provide the best possible care to the victims. These sections in the Directive are not just welcome but, if properly applied, a necessity in the provision of justice.
Yet, despite these clauses aiming to ensuring access and support to victim services will be met across Europe, and despite the great strides that haven taken place over the past twenty years, there is still much to do. Let me suggest how intention may not always translate into reality.
S.3 of Article 9 states that ‘unless otherwise provided by other public or private services’, shelters or other interim accommodation for victims must be developed and provided. This provision is, of course, an essential element of the Directive and will hopefully see Member States provide sufficient shelter for victims. However, one issue I see clearly here is that it does not provide a minimum standard of how many services there must be and who they can accommodate. So the member state will need to interpret this provision (indeed, how the Directive is enshrined in individual state law is left to the individual state) and this is where the intentions often fail to match the reality and fall down.
For example, In England and Wales, there has been much criticism recently on the cuts to funding for refuge charities particularly those that house victims of domestic abuse. Between 2010 and 2014, 32 specialist services have shut their doors permanently in England and Wales. The services remaining are struggling to focus on saving the lives of victims of domestic abuse in the first instance because they are trying to save themselves from what many see as unjustified cuts to their funding, be it from central government or local councils. Despite S.3 of Article 9 being so necessary, one cannot deny that the reality of practice and application for victims of crime and the support they need can well be problematic.
So as well as adopting the Directive, all individual Member States need to proactively help deliver an ample number of shelters (or other forms of safe accommodation) to protect victims from further harm and the way to do this is to ensure that there is necessary funding available.
 Directive 2012/29/EU of The European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA, Official Journal of the European Union, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2012:315:0057:0073:EN:PDF p.315/68 – 315/69.