Article 22 – Access to legal aid/representation

Article 22 – Access to legal aid/representation

1) Member States shall ensure that victims have access to free legal aid where they have the status of parties to criminal proceedings and free legal representation for victims of serious crimes and for victims who need legal representation in order to fully enjoy their participatory rights during criminal proceedings.

2) The conditions or procedural rules under which victims have access to legal aid and representation shall be determined by national law.

COMMENTARY – Article 22

The European Commission did not include any revisions to this article in its proposal.

Across Member States, significant problems stem from the restrictive application of victims’ right to legal aid during criminal justice process. Victims often find themselves unable to fully exercise their participatory rights during proceedings because of limited access to legal assistance, primarily determined by their status as a party to the proceedings.

While the ideal scenario is universal access to free legal aid for all victims of crime, resource constraints at national level are a reality. However, the VSE proposal ensures that those with the status of party to proceedings have access to free legal aid; this encompasses the provision of legal advice, assistance, and representation by a lawyer, provided at no cost. The express reference to legal aid “free of charge” is included to avoid Member States introducing the obligation for victims to pay financial contributions, based on their income or other factors. The VSE proposal recognises the essential importance of free legal representation; due to the intricate nature of serious crimes with complex proceedings, legal assistance is crucial to enabling victims to navigate the complexities of the legal system. Lastly, the VSE proposal extends access to free legal representation to situations where victims require such support to fully enjoy their participatory rights. This may include the right to make decisions on offender compensation, and the right to review decisions not to prosecute, or decisions taken within the context of proceedings that directly affect victims. By broadening access to legal aid and representation, the VSE proposal seeks to empower victims and ensure that their participatory rights are upheld throughout the criminal justice process.