Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report




Draft Framework Decision on the standing of victims
in criminal proceedings.

Amended draft Framework Decision on the standing
of victims in criminal proceedings.

Legal base: Articles 31 and 34(2) EU; consultation; unanimity (but see below)
Deposited in Parliament: (a) 6 July 2000
(b) 31 October 2000
Department: Home Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 30 November 2000
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000), paragraph 7 (26 July 2000)
To be discussed in Council: December 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically and legally important
Committee's decision: (a) Cleared
(b) Not cleared; further information requested


  2.1  The Tampere European Council agreed that minimum standards should be established for the protection of victims of crime and national programmes set up for their assistance. This proposal is based on that conclusion (32), on point 51(c) of the Vienna Action Plan[11], and on the responses to the Commission Communication, Crime victims in the European Union.[12] It was discussed at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in September.

  2.2  When we last considered the proposal (in July), we noted that the Government, while broadly welcoming the initiative, was negotiating on a number of issues. We therefore decided to wait for further information on progress before clearing the document. The Minister of State at the Home Office (Mrs Barbara Roche) has now deposited a new version of the text, document (b), together with an Explanatory Memorandum in which she gives us her view of how well the amendments meet the Government's earlier concerns.

Document (b) and the Government's view

The proposal

  2.3  The substantive items in the proposal still fall broadly into the following categories:

  • mutual co-operation, including the provision of free advice, interpretation facilities and support, with the aim of ensuring that a victim is not disadvantaged by virtue of the Member State in which he is victimised;

  • protection of intimidated or vulnerable witnesses during court proceedings;

  • the right to compensation; and

  • the promotion and exploration of mediation between offenders and victims.

The amendments and the Government's view

  2.4  The Minister states that, all in all, the Government considers this to be a helpful and worthwhile measure which will benefit EU victims of crime in their own and in other Member States. She identifies the main ways in which the new text meets the Government's earlier concerns.

  2.5  One of the Government's problems with the earlier draft was the reference to income from fines being used directly to compensate victims. The Minister tells us that, following UK intervention, this reference has been omitted.

  2.6  Earlier references to the provision of free legal aid or legal advice, which is of more relevance to those Member States where victims can become civil parties to proceedings than to the UK, have also been amended. The wording now makes it clear that legal aid will only apply where victims are parties to criminal proceedings (and only then "where appropriate") and the concept of "legal advice" has been broadened to include advice about the criminal justice system (as provided in the UK by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Victim Support).

  2.7  The references in parts of Articles to victims having access to the prosecution case file have been removed, as have references to reporting restrictions. The Government had concerns about the former — for reasons of confidentiality, privacy and public safety — and did not wish press freedom to be restrained more than necessary.

The legal base

  2.8  In our last report on this proposal, we noted that the Government planned to seek clarification of the legal base. The Minister now tells us:

    "Article 31 provides for 'Common action on judicial cooperation in criminal matters'. Although none of the specific areas set out in Article 31(a) to (d) would appear to cover the provisions of this Framework Decision, it is considered that (a) to (d) is not necessarily an exhaustive list of the action which can be taken in order to 'provide citizens with a high level of safety within an area of freedom, security and justice' in accordance with Article 29 TEU, and that in this context the meaning of 'judicial cooperation' can be given an extensive interpretation. The Government considers that the present measure is sufficiently closely connected to the objectives of Article 29 to justify such a legal basis."


  2.9  The Minister tells us that the aim is for the proposal to be formally adopted before the end of the French Presidency.


  2.10  We thank the Minister for her full and helpful Explanatory Memorandum. It appears that the amended text meets the Government's earlier concerns, and the Government is now supportive of the measure.

  2.11  While we are pleased that this is so, we still have serious questions about the proposed legal base. As the Minister admits, none of the areas listed in Article 31 cover the provisions in the draft Framework Decision and we remain to be convinced that the list is not necessarily exhaustive. We understand that the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee has raised a similar objection, and has suggested that the measure would be more appropriately presented as a Recommendation. We are, of course, in favour of victim support, but we do not consider that it justifies extending a legal base in a way that might prove an unfortunate precedent.

  2.12  Despite the possible pressure for early adoption of the proposal, we will hold document (b) under scrutiny until we have the Minister's views on this issue, together with a more detailed justification of the legal base. We do, however, clear document (a).

11  (19542)12028; see HC 34-i (1997-98), paragraph 8 (25 November 1998). Back

12  (20581) -; HC 23-ii (1999-2000), paragraph 17 (1 December 1999). Back

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