THE STANDING OF VICTIMS IN CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS
Draft Framework Decision on the standing of victims
in criminal proceedings.
Amended draft Framework Decision on the standing
of victims in criminal proceedings.
||Articles 31 and 34(2) EU; consultation; unanimity (but see below)
|Deposited in Parliament:
||(a) 6 July 2000
(b) 31 October 2000
|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:
||Politically and legally important
(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,
and on the responses to the Commission Communication, Crime
victims in the European Union.
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
Document (b) and the Government's view
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
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
-; HC 23-ii (1999-2000), paragraph 17 (1 December 1999). Back