Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Voices for Justice: EU justice systems must do better on rights of victims with disabilities

By Zsófia Bajnay 6th December 2022


The justice system and its symbols are scary. In most places, courts are not about justice, they are about power. For anyone, facing these symbols of power is disabling. Start with thinking about de-focusing the power; the focus should be on justice. It is really about the humanisation of the justice system itself and making it accessible for all. (Gábor Gombos, former member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Senior Adviser to Voices for Justice project)

The Voices for Justice project draws to a close in December 2022. With nine project partners, operating across seven EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) the project undertook groundbreaking research into how people with disabilities who are victims of crime experience the justice system.

Paola Grenier, Project Manager, says:

Voices for Justice has achieved more than we could have hoped for when we started in early 2020. The project has established a new agenda for upholding the rights of persons with disabilities who are victims of crime, both in terms of policy and practice. And we are already starting to see the impact as national partners are disseminating easy read materials for victims with disabilities about their rights, are developing accessible digital services for victims with disabilities, are informing people with disabilities in institutions about their rights and how they can report a suspected crime, and are introducing communication intermediaries to their justice systems.

Partner organisations carried out desk research and interviews with victims with disabilities and professionals working in the criminal justice system, producing seven National Findings Reports. The reports were launched at another webinar, where authors of the seven national research reports focused on some of the main issues with how the European Union Victims’ Rights Directive is implemented for people with disabilities at the national level, with a particular emphasis on information and effective communication.

Research findings across all countries show how victims with disabilities are often completely denied access to justice and are generally invisible to professionals in the system – as if they existed in a ‘blank space’. In practice, people with disabilities face almost insurmountable barriers to reporting crimes, as their stories are dismissed as not credible and they struggle to access victim support services and legal advice. Barriers are present at all stages of the criminal justice process, starting from reporting to the trial, if there is one.

We live on the ground floor and we get harassed a lot. We called the police about it several times. We wrote a complaint to the police, because we wanted this harassment to stop. But there was no written reply. They say that we are weird. (Slovenia, 2022, p.27)

Where an investigation does take place, victims with disabilities may not be interviewed, effectively sidelining them, and denying them access to justice.

The interesting thing for me that was throughout the whole pre-trial phase the victim was neither interviewed, not even as a witness, nor he was personally informed about any rights… (Bulgaria, 2022, p.29)

Drawing on evidence from the National Finding Reports, an International Synthesis Report showed how gaps in the European Union Victims’ Rights Directive manifested in national legal frameworks, policies and practices. The International Synthesis Report concluded that while key provisions of the Victims’ Rights Directive help ensure that reporting, investigation and criminal proceedings are victim-focused, and recognise victims’ rights to information and communication, the overall framework of the Directive must be strengthened in specific ways to meet international disability rights obligations on access to justice.

The International Synthesis Report was introduced to the public at our first in-person event of the project, the Humanising Justice conference in Brussels. Persons with disabilities who have been victims of crime joined us to share their stories, as well as representatives of civil society, members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and experts from academia.

The project reinforced the necessity for practical approaches to removing barriers to accessing justice for persons with disabilities, as it went on to engage professionals and persons with disabilities in a series of events to facilitate cross-disciplinary cooperation at the national level. During the workshops, partners reached over 700 professionals and people with disabilities in a range of conferences, consultations, workshop and training events. The events brought together legal professionals, social workers and victim support professionals, who were introduced to the experiences of victims with disabilities, often by self-advocates with disabilities.

Inputs from the workshops were channeled into a Toolchest for professionals and victims with disabilities, which aims to provide practical information and guidance to ensure that people with disabilities who are victims of crime are able to report the crime, understand what is happening during the investigation, and give testimony during proceedings. The Toolchest identifies the barriers to accessing justice experienced by victims with disabilities, and concrete practices and support that can help overcome these. Furthermore, as part of the project, easy-to-read materials were created to support victims with disabilities to understand their rights. The two documents were launched during the final webinar of the project: Voices for Justice: Tools for professionals and victims with disabilities.


Information and Communications: Cornerstones of Justice for Victims of Crime with Disability (878604 — InfoComPWDs).
JUST-AG-2019 / JUST-JACC-AG-2019.

Disclaimer: The contents of this project represent the views of the project partners only and are their sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

EU emblem This project is co-funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014-2020).