Article 17 – Right to accompaniment throughout criminal proceedings

Article 17 – Right to accompaniment throughout criminal proceedings

1) Member States shall ensure that victims may be accompanied by a person of their choice in the first contact with a competent authority and throughout criminal proceedings to provide emotional support and assistance to victims in understanding proceedings and in communicating with authorities. Unless contrary to the interests of the victim or unless the course of proceedings would be prejudiced, Member States shall allow victims to be accompanied by a person of their choice in the first contact with a competent authority where, due to the impact of the crime, the victim requires assistance to understand or to be understood

2) The competent authority may refuse accompaniment by a person of choice where it is contrary to the interests of the victims or if the course of criminal proceedings would be prejudiced, unless the person of choice is a representative of a recognised victim support service.

COMMENTARY – Article 17

The European Commission’s proposal did not include a provision on the right to accompaniment. In its explanatory memorandum to the proposal, the Commission refers to the fact that the right to be accompanied by a person other than a lawyer is important to emotional support and for the provision of advice on a victim’s role and rights during proceedings. However, the right remains limited to the investigation stage.

Victims face numerous challenges in exercising their rights and in participating in a trial. They may be impacted by the crime to the extent that they are unable to engage in proceedings. Even if trauma isn’t a factor, many people have never entered a court room; they may not have the education or capacity to follow proceedings; many victims have vulnerable backgrounds which significantly affect how well they, without assistance, can exercise their rights under law. These barriers may result in victims omitting information, crucial to the criminal justice process, during their interaction with competent authorities. Even when victims exercise their rights, they may experience further harm due to the insensitive attitudes of justice officials.

Victims should be empowered to act upon their participatory rights. For them to do so, it is essential they receive appropriate support throughout proceedings – this right alone can make significant differences to access to rights and a victim’s experience of justice.

VSE introduces the right for victims to be accompanied throughout proceedings by a person of their choice. This right may be refused under exceptional circumstances, by a reasoned decision by competent authorities that demonstrate it is contrary to the interest of the victim (e.g.: the victim wishes to be accompanied by their partner, who is also the suspect in the criminal proceedings), or that it would prejudice the proceedings.

However, VSE sees not reasonable explanation for why competent authorities can refuse the accompaniment by a support worker connected to a recognised support service. Practice across several EU Member States shows that being accompanied by a support worker may assist victims with respect to their rights, with understanding the proceedings and their role, whilst helping to reduce the trauma of participation in proceedings. As a result, victims can feel better prepared to participate in the justice process. Research shows that victims are usually treated more respectfully, and their rights are better respected, when they are accompanied by a support worker.