Article 3 – Right to understand and to be understood

Article 3 – Right to understand and to be understood

1) Member States shall take appropriate measures to assist victims to understand and to be understood from the first contact and during any further necessary interaction they have with a competent authority or organisation assisting victims in the context of criminal proceedings, including where information is provided by that authority.  

2) Member States shall ensure that communications with victims are accessible to all users taking into account the personal characteristics of the victim including any disability and the impact of trauma. Communications shall be accessible in particular where they are

a) provided through multiple sources and formats, including orally, in writing and digitally; 
b) accurate, simple and easy to understand allowing information to be acted upon; 
c) provided in a timely manner and repeated over time; and 
d) adapted to changing individual needs of victims. in simple and accessible language, orally or in writing. Such communications shall take into account the personal characteristics of the victim including any disability which may affect the ability to understand or to be understood.   

3) 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 and individual circumstances, the victim requires assistance to understand or to be understood. 

COMMENTARY – Article 3

The European Commission has not amended the right to understand and to be understood in its proposal. However, an amendment to Article 26a (Protocols through national coordination and cooperation) introduces new principles through which Member States should provide information to victims and organise information provision mechanisms. This proposal is a key improvement in defining and harmonising how information should be communicated and ensuring that victims understand it and can act on it. However, VSE suggests these guiding principles should be added to the Right to understand and be understood: they better clarify this right and what it means for a victim to have access to understandable information. VSE’s suggestions use language similar to that of the Commission, though with additional principles (e.g. accurate, provided through multiple sources), so as to achieve a more comprehensive delivery of information.

At this time, a variety of quality issues prevent victims effectively understanding the information communicated to them, thus impeding their ability to act on it and exercise their rights. Quality issues range from the use of complex and technical language to the lack of accessible information or its untimely delivery. To address such challenges, guiding principles must be established and integrated within the Directive. For further information on individual principles, please refer to VSE’s policy paper ‘Transforming how we communicate with victims’ (2023)[1], which examines the barriers victims face when accessing information, and provides recommendations on addressing them.

[1] Transforming how we communicate with victims, Victim Support Europe, 2023, available at:

Key Problems

1) Victims are not informed about their rights

  • Victims usually have limited knowledge about their rights, the functioning of the criminal proceeding, and access to support services.  
  • Victims do not always receive information following a crime: it does not exist, it is not widely available, or it is not offered to them.  
  • First contact authorities do not provide information to victims in a complete, adapted and timely manner. This effectively impedes victims’ ability to understand their rights and act on them.  

2) Information is not adapted to victims’ needs 

  • Current mechanisms of information provision are inefficient and fail to address the needs for all victims: information is standardised and not adapted to victims’ individual communication needs.  
  • Due to unclear legislative provisions, there are no practical measures in place to ensure that victims understand and are understood from their first contact with authorities. 
  • Quality of information relies on the individual skills of the person providing the information.  
  • Lack of consistency in information provided at the first contact: duplications, gaps and confusions regarding the information provided to victims, how, when and by whom.  

Data on the Implementation of Right

Access to information across EU Member States- Adaptation of communication according to victim’s communication needs  

  • Children: 30,5% of professionals believe that children always get adapted information  
  • People with hearing impairment: 33,1% 
  • People with intellectual disabilities: 26,1% 
  • Persons who do not speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted: 29,6% 
  • Illiterate people: 26% 
  • Blind and partially blind people: 30%  

Most of these groups only receive information intermittently

(Source: VOCIARE Synthesis Report, Victim Support Europe, 2019

Best Practices by Member States

Austria: Easy to read communication efforts for victims with specific communication needs

Authorities have been carrying out efforts to develop easy to read communications targeted to different groups with specific communication needs.  
A form is being tested for the provision of information to people with disabilities, even though the form is not yet consistently used throughout the country. 

Additionally, a website ( provides information in sign language for women victims of violence in a close relationship.  

705 staff members of the Federal Ministry of the Interior have received training on basic principles of communication with older persons and people suffering from dementia.  

At the police stations in Austria, child victims are interviewed by a specifically trained officer, who provides information in an age-appropriate manner.  

In cases involving victims or witnesses with disabilities or victims under 14 years of age, the presence of a trusted person is mandatory.  

Finland: online video for victims with hearing disabilities

The content of a brochure named “if you become a victim of a crime” was used to create a video in sign language which is now available online.  

Netherlands: provision of information through different means  

Information which is usually provided orally is often completed with educational videos and infographics.  

The identified difficulty of ensuring that victims with mental disabilities and literacy problems are effectively informed on their rights is being addressed by a working group composed by representatives from the prosecution service, police, victim support and other criminal justice agencies. The working group is currently developing adapted tools for these groups, including pictograms and audio recordings of written information. 

Slovenia: Brochures for children

Brochures for children (for different ages) where their rights and the criminal procedure are explained proved to be a very useful tool in practice.  The Supreme Court of Slovenia is also preparing new such tools (brochures, online animations) not only for children and for criminal procedure, but for the public in general and for all procedures.