Strengthening the rights of victims of crime with disabilities in Europe: From ‘blank space’ to humanising justice
The justice system is confusing and intimidating for many victims of crime, but victims with disabilities face almost insurmountable barriers. Research conducted by the Voices for Justice project in 7 EU countries, and brought together in the ‘Humanising Justice’ report published in 2022, found a ‘blank space’, as people with disabilities experience entrenched physical, attitudinal, institutional, cultural and legal barriers preventing them from accessing the justice system.
The experiences of a person with an intellectual disability who was a victim of fraud are set out in the research report from Slovakia. Not only was the crime not properly investigated, but the effect on the victim was to remove his legal capacity and his rights, such that justice was even further from being achieved.
“Mr. V is a person with an intellectual disability, living independently and using the support of non-residential social service. Unfortunately, he became a victim of several frauds concerning his property. He was robbed by a man he let into his apartment for 3,000 euros, he signed a contract transferring his inherited property to another person for 33,000 euros while in reality he was paid only 3,000 euros, and finally, he was tricked by a fake policeman whom he allowed into his flat and robbed him of his money. Except for the second case, he always filed a criminal complaint. Unfortunately, in the first case, it was dismissed arguing that the police could do nothing about it when he let the man into his flat voluntarily, in the second case the police stopped the investigation based on Mr. V’s expert examination and the fact that Mr. V was not able to identify the perpetrator on photography. All his efforts to deal with the frauds he was a victim to thus meant for him only one thing – that his family learned about these things and initiated civil proceedings on restricting his legal capacity. Mr. V’s legal capacity is thus currently restricted what negatively affects his everyday life, including the provision of social service.” (Voice for Justice, Slovakia report, 2022: p60)
The Victims’ Rights Directive is one of the range of measure introduced by the European Union to enhance the status of victims of crime through national legislation and policy. Yet, organisations of persons with disabilities and Validity have found the people with disabilities continue to experience multiple and systemic barriers to accessing and achieving justice. Following a public consultation and evaluation during 2022, the European Commission has recognised the need to strengthen the framework for victims’ rights and will be publishing revisions to Victim’s Rights Directive in 2023.
On 10 October, Victim Support Europe and Validity Foundation hosted a consultation meeting in Brussels to discuss concrete ways in which the rights and needs of people with disabilities who are victims of crime can be enhanced within the Victims’ Rights Directive, strengthening alignment with international human rights standards including Articles 12 and 13 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Experts in justice, victim support, restorative justice, mental health and disability rights came together to discuss how the rights of victims with disabilities could be advanced within victims’ rights policy, and specifically in relation to the European Union’s Victims’ Rights Directive.
Discussions focused on some of the key practical barriers and challenges facing victims with disabilities, from respecting their legal capacity, to ways in which information is provided about the justice system and their case, the provision of procedural accommodations which are necessary to enable people with disabilities to participate in court proceedings, and working with trained justice intermediaries who can facilitate communication so that people with disabilities can be active participants in the justice system.
Paola Grenier, Validity’s Project Manager for the Voices for Justice project, said: “We call on the European Commission to meet with Validity and other disability rights organisations to ensure that the voices of people with disabilities are included in the processes of recommending and revising policies which impact on their lives and their rights.”
Validity will continue to work closely with Victim Support Europe to prepare more detailed proposals on the changes necessary to ensure that the redrafting of the Victims’ Rights Directive properly recognises the particular circumstances and needs of victims with disabilities.
For further information on the Voices for Justice project, click here.