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Q2/2017/JAP- Query from the Polish Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights for Equal Treatment concerning the Victims; Rights Directive and actions that aim to stop violence against women

Available languages: en
  • Case: Q2/2017/JAP
    Opened on 19 Apr 2017 - Decision on 04 Jul 2017
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Commission

Facts and background

On 23 February 2017, the Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights for Equal Treatment sent a letter to the European Ombudsman about the possibility of enhancing cooperation between the EU institutions and ombudspersons in the Member States on the issue of violence against women.

In her letter, the Deputy Commissioner pointed out that 2017 was a year designated by the European Commission as a year of focused actions that aim to stop violence against women. She wished to be informed about the activities at EU level and the actions of other ombudspersons, who also have competence in this field.

The European Ombudsman’s Office treated it as a query concerning Directive 2012/29/EU[1], which sets out minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime (Victims’ Rights Directive). The Directive also covers gender-based violence and violence in close relationships.

Article 26.1 of the Directive ‘Cooperation and coordination of services’ provides that:

Member States shall take appropriate action to facilitate cooperation between Member States to improve the access of victims to the rights set out in this Directive and under national law. Such cooperation shall be aimed at least at:

(a) the exchange of best practices;

(b) consultation in individual cases; and

(c) assistance to European networks working on matters directly relevant to victims' rights“.

The Guidelines to the Directive state that it is important to explore channels through which national authorities can cooperate and which may require the establishment of national contact points.[2]

Query

On 19 April 2017, the European Ombudsman requested the Commission to:

(i) state if Article 26.1 of Directive 2012/29/EU, which deals with cooperation between Member States, could be interpreted to include promoting cooperation between national, regional and local ombudsmen to combat violence against women, and, if so, whether the Commission’s DG Justice could be of support to this end; and

(ii) clarify the state of play on defining European standards on access to legal aid and complaint mechanisms for women who are victims of violence, as well as access to victim support services.

Commission's reply

In its reply of 29 May 2017, the Commission confirmed that Article 29.1 of Directive 2012/29/EU covered, in principle, the cooperation between national, regional and local ombudspersons dealing with violence against women. In this context, the Commission mentioned that a number of ombudsmen were part of two established networks in this area, namely the European Network of Victims’ Rights[3] and the European Network of Equality Bodies (EQUINET)[4]. Although it concluded that a closer cooperation between the EU institutions and ombudspersons in this area could be achieved by using the already existing structures at EU level, it welcomed the idea of enhancing further cooperation amongst all the relevant actors. The Commission noted that it envisaged inviting these networks to its experts’ meeting on the rights of victims of crime later in 2017.

Regarding the second question, the Commission observed that access to legal aid free of charge of victims is closely linked to the national systems of criminal procedure. According to Article 13 of the Victims' Rights Directive, Member States shall ensure that victims have access to legal aid, where they have the status of parties to criminal proceedings. The relevant conditions or procedural rules are determined by national law. In practice, free legal aid is generally available to victims in 26 EU Member States. In most cases, however, victims are subject to economic means testing from which only certain categories of victims are exempted (typically minors and, to a certain extent, also victims of domestic violence or sexual offences).

Moreover, it noted that the Victims' Rights Directive provided for a set of rules that aim at facilitating the complaints mechanism. In particular, under Article 4 of the Directive the Member States shall ensure that victims are offered, right from the first contact with authorities, information about the available complaint procedures. Once victims have lodged a complaint, they should receive a written acknowledgement of receipt, stating the basic elements of the criminal offence concerned[5].

The Commission also stated that all Member States provided for support services for women victims of violence[6]. However, several Member States have not yet put in place well-developed specialist support services for women of domestic violence or for other forms of violence against women.

Finally, on the issue of transposition of the Victims’ Rights Directive, the Commission explained that it had started infringement proceedings against those Member States, which had not notified it of their national transposition measures in time. At the time of the letter, six Member States had not yet informed the Commission of the full transposition of the Directive. While the infringements are ongoing, the Commission is engaged in a constructive dialogue to assist the incompliant Member States in correct transposition of the Directive

Feedback

The Ombudsman forwarded the Commission’s reply to the Deputy Commissioner in Poland. Her Office was satisfied with the Commission’s clarifications. Her Office also suggested to the European Ombudsman to clarify which members of the European Network of Ombudsmen (ENO) have competence in the area of combating violence against women.

As a follow-up, the European Ombudsman consulted the members of the ENO to learn about their respective competence in the field of preventing and combating violence against women and gender based violence. Once the replies have been analysed, the Deputy Commissioner will be informed of the findings accordingly.

Closing procedure

Taking into account the content of the Commission's exhaustive reply and of the fact that the Polish Deputy Commissioner was satisfied with it, the European Ombudsman Office concluded that the query was successfully completed.

The European Ombudsman’s Office thanked the Commission for its excellent co-operation in this query procedure and for its efforts to provide a reply within a short period of time. The European Ombudsman’s Office also informed the Commission of the above mentioned question posed to all members of the ENO and that further ENO initiative may be possible on the basis of their replies.

 

[1] Query procedure is explained at the following link: https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/cases/queries.faces

[2] European Commission, DG Justice, December 2013, Guidance Document related to the transposition and implementation of Directive 2012/29/EU, page 49: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/files/victims/guidance_victims_rights_directive_en.pdf

[3] European Network for Victims' Rights has been established during the Dutch Presidency in 2016 to strengthen the legal position of crime victims. The network brings together policy makers who are working on ensuring that victims are able to exercise their basic rights. It comprises of national experts from all EU Member States (representatives of the Ministries of Justice), who meet twice a year. It has been set up under Article 26.1 of the Victims’ Rights Directive.

[4] For more information about Equinet please refer to: http://www.equineteurope.org/-About-us-

[5] Pursuant to Article 5 of the Victims' Rights Directive.

[6] In accordance with Articles 8 and 9 of the Victims' Rights Directive.