The rights of victims of a criminal offence

Victims of criminal offences are granted a set of rights that they can exercise in order to meet their needs and defend their interests.
These rights are set out not only in national laws but also in international legal instruments, such as the European Union Directive of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of crime victims.

In this section you can learn more about these rights and how they can be implemented.
If any of these rights are not respected, the victim should report this to the authority responsible for ensuring that the right is respected.

The victim support associations France Victimes can help you to exercise some of these rights by providing information and explanations, and by guiding you in your dealings with the authorities. However, please note that France Victimes victim support associations do not represent victims in criminal proceedings.

Right to information about rights from the first contact with the competent authority

Victims should be given full information about their rights in clear and accessible language. In France, from their first contact with a competent authority, victims will receive all the information necessary to assert their rights. Article 10-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure lists ten aspects of the victim’s right to information, which must be explained to the victim during the investigations by officers and agents of the judicial police by any means; it is about informing victims of their rights: 1° To obtain reparation for the harm they have suffered, by means of compensation or any other appropriate means, including, if necessary, restorative justice; 2° To register as a civil party either during a public prosecution filed by the State Prosecution Service, by issuing a direct summons for the perpetrator to appear before the competent court, or by filing a complaint before the Investigating Judge; 3° To be assisted, if they wish to register as a civil party, by a lawyer of their choosing or who, at their request, is appointed by the President of the Bar Association of the competent court, the costs being borne by the victims unless they are eligible for legal aid or if they have legal protection insurance; 4° To be assisted by one or more public authorities or by a victim support association approved under conditions defined by decree; 5° To refer the matter, where appropriate, to the Crime Victims Compensation Board (CIVI), when it concerns an offence referred to in Articles 706-3 or 706-14 of this same Code; 6° To be informed of the protection measures from which they may benefit, in particular the protection orders provided for in Title XIV of Book I of the Civil Code. Victims are also informed of the penalties for the perpetrators of violence and the conditions for enforcing any sentences that may be handed down; 7° For victims who do not understand French, to have an interpreter and a translation of the information required to exercise their rights; 8° To be accompanied, at their request, at all stages of the procedure, by their legal representative and by an adult of their choice, unless the competent judicial authority decides otherwise with good grounds; 9° To declare the address of a third party as their home address, subject to the latter’s express agreement. However, where the victim is a person in a position of public authority or entrusted with a public service mission and the offence was committed due to their functions or mission, they shall be informed that they may use their professional address without the need for this agreement. 10° In the case of victims of violence for whom a medical examination has been requested by the judicial police or a court official, to be given the medical examination certificate describing their state of health. These rights are listed in the receipt issued after the victim files a complaint.


Right to interpretation and translation

During a criminal trial in France, the language used to communicate is French. However, victims may not speak this language. Similarly, they may have a disability such as deafness or be mute. In such cases, the law establishes the right to an interpreter and a translation of the essential documents in the case file, necessary for the exercise of the victim’s rights. Translators and interpreters are sworn experts, named in a list drawn up by the Court of Appeal. They are paid by the court. The interpreter’s task is to translate what the judge and the various participants in the trial say, to ensure that the procedure is properly understood and that the best possible judgement is reached. Thus, if a witness does not speak French, the interpreter will translate the questions put to them as accurately as possible, and conversely, the interpreter will translate to the judge, in the most precise terms, what the witness has answered. In order to make use of this right to interpretation and translation, the victim must apply for it. The judge should check that the victim does not speak or understand French. If the victim has a disability, such as deafness, verbal translation may be provided. The use of an interpreter should be recorded in the report of the trial. If, however, victims do not specify that they do not speak or understand French, it is up to the investigator to determine this before the trial begins. During the court trial, the judge or the victim may challenge the interpreter and the quality of the interpretation. In this case, the authority in charge of the case may choose a new interpreter.


Right to return of property

In the course of the investigations or judicial investigation, certain property belonging to the victim may be seized, as it constitutes evidence and is therefore a means of determining the truth. For example, the victim’s car or clothes, in the case of sexual assault, can be used as evidence. If the property seized was not necessary to determine the truth, the owner may claim compensation from the State. As soon as the items are no longer needed, the victim can ask for them back. They may also request their return at any stage of the procedure. The victim will have to apply to the Public Prosecutor, in the case of preliminary investigations or if the case has been dismissed, or to the judge at subsequent stages of the proceedings. Once the return has been approved, the owner of the property has one month to claim it back. Return is made in kind. The owner is summoned by the court clerk or the Office of the Public Prosecutor. They must provide proof of identity and justification for the return. There are certain cases where property cannot be returned. When the property was the direct cause of the offence, or if it poses a danger to persons or property, the Public Prosecutor may refuse to return the seized property. However, this refusal must not violate the individual’s privacy. Where return of property is refused, the victim has the right to appeal against this decision to the Investigating Division within one month of the Public Prosecutor’s decision.


Right to compensation

Victims’ right to compensation is an acknowledgement of the damage they have suffered (e.g. physical and psychological suffering, possible after-effects and resulting financial consequences, material damage). The purpose of compensation is to make up for the loss resulting from the various injuries suffered by the victim, and to restore them (as much as possible) to a situation equivalent to their situation before the crime. In general, to be compensated for their loss, victims can turn to their insurance, the courts, or a compensation fund (the FGTI – Guarantee Fund for Victims of Terrorist Acts and Other Offences, mostly). Some situations can be covered by insurance: this is the case for traffic accidents, burglaries, etc. In addition, victims can also take legal action and claim compensation for their loss: either from a civil court if they know the offender. They will have to prove their loss, and that this loss was the fault of the person who caused the damage. or from a criminal court: the victim, by registering as a civil party, will become a party to the criminal proceedings and will be able to ask the court for compensation for the harm they have suffered (this is called ‘damages’). However, in order to guarantee compensation for victims in particularly serious situations, the law has also set up compensation schemes, based on national solidarity, which can be activated independently and under certain conditions. Victims of serious personal injury can apply to the CIVI (Crime Victims Compensation Board), a civil body within each court that rules on compensation claims made by victims or their dependants. There are deadlines and various conditions to be met. The victim does not have to wait for the court to hand down a judgement awarding them damages before they can submit a claim for compensation to the CIVI, the essential requirement being proof of the existence of an offence that caused the damage. Furthermore, if the offender does not pay the victim the damages owed, following a court decision, the victim may apply to the SARVI (Crime Victims Compensation Recovery Service) in order to obtain compensation, under certain conditions. The SARVI can help victims who have registered as a civil party and who have suffered personal injury or material loss which has been the subject of damages awarded by a court, but which cannot be compensated by the CIVI. SARVI pays part or all of the amount of the conviction, and then recovers the money from the convicted person. For more information on compensation, do not hesitate to contact a lawyer or a victim support association.


Right to legal aid

Victims can apply for legal aid, which means that the State will pay all or part of the costs of the legal proceedings (mainly depending on the victim’s finances, except for the most serious offences). This aid is intended to help people who want to claim their rights in court, but who cannot afford a lawyer, a notary, or an expert. It is for instance paid to the lawyers so that they can represent and assist the victim free of charge. The victim will therefore not pay the legal costs. To apply for legal aid, victims can contact their local legal aid office and fill in an application form. They can also find this form at a victim support association or on the internet. Victims must meet three conditions for receiving legal aid: Not have legal expenses insurance that covers all legal costs; Be a French or European national, or ordinarily resident in France.      However, the residence condition is not required if the victim is a civil party in the proceedings; Have a reference tax income below a certain threshold. Legal aid is granted on the basis of reference tax income as well as personal and property assets. Do not hesitate to consult a lawyer or a victim support association, for example, to determine whether the victim is eligible for legal aid. The application for legal aid can be made at any time during the procedure and covers only the legal costs. The aid granted is either partial or total. If legal aid is refused or only partially granted, the victim can appeal. A report should be sent to the competent authority explaining the reasons for the refusal, and the authority will review the file to decide whether or not to grant legal aid. If the victim is eligible for legal aid, they may select a lawyer of their choice who operates under this scheme, or if they do not know one, they can ask the President of the Bar to appoint a lawyer for them.


Right to an individualised assessment

The 2012 Victims’ Rights Directive introduced a new right of victims to an individual and personal evaluation to determine their protection needs (EValuation of VIctims, EVVI). The purpose of this evaluation is to identify the needs of victims in order to determine whether specific protection measures are required during the criminal proceedings. The EVVI is a general evaluation for all victims. Most of the time it is performed when filing a complaint, to determine the extent of the harm suffered, the circumstances of the crime and the risks faced by the victim, and to identify victims who may need further assessment. It is carried out at this stage by the police or gendarmerie, who then record the results in a report. The police or gendarmerie may alert the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which in turn, if it deems it appropriate, will refer the case to a victim support association for an in-depth assessment of the situation and level of vulnerability. In several jurisdictions, victim support associations will routinely conduct an EVVI for certain types of offences (domestic violence, violence within the family). The victim support association then carries out a more detailed assessment to determine the relevant measures to meet the needs of the victims (for instance: appointment of an ad hoc administrator, activation of the Serious Danger Telephone mechanism), avoid repeated victimisation, and for their protection. Its findings are recorded in a notice to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which will decide whether to implement these measures. In addition, the EVVI can be carried out at all stages of the procedure, including when enforcing sentences, when the offender is granted leave or released from custody.


Right to specific protection measures

In cases of domestic violence (or forced marriage), an emergency protection order can be issued by the family court judge to protect the victim if the alleged violence is deemed likely and constituting a danger to them and their children. It can be issued without the need for a complaint to be filed, whether or not the perpetrator has been convicted, and whether or not the victim and the perpetrator have been living together. The judge may use this order to pronounce: A ban on contact with the victim, A ban on visiting certain designated places, A ban for the perpetrator on owning or carrying a weapon, Health, social or psychological care, A ban on the perpetrator of the violence to come within a certain distance of the victim, together with the obligation to wear an electronic GPS monitoring device (ankle tag), Measures on the couple’s residence (allocation of the dwelling to the victim in principle), The possibility for the victim to conceal their address, A provisional admission to legal aid (which can be requested by the victim to cover the costs of the proceedings). The protection order may also lay down measures relating to the exercise of parental authority, in particular with regard to visiting and accommodation arrangements, and decide on the amount of maintenance. In addition, victims (of domestic violence or rape) at particular risk of violence may also be issued with a Serious Danger Telephone. This is a warning device (mobile phone) allocated to the victim which, when triggered, allows the law enforcement agencies to attend quickly and as a priority. When allocated this device, the victim will also be given personalised support (legal and psychological follow-up, rehousing, employment, etc.) to help secure their situation on a long-term basis. The ankle tag is an electronic device introduced following the law of 28 December 2019, which stops two people coming too close to each other: the person under surveillance (wearing the ankle tag) and the protected person (who carries a smart device, a bit like a telephone). As a protection tool for the victim, it allows for immediate intervention when the person under surveillance gets within a certain distance of the person being protected. The association gives the device to the victim, helps them set it up, and explains how it works. The victim is protected as soon as the device is handed over. The association also provides legal, social, and psychological support for victims of domestic violence. In turn, the Prison Integration and Probation Service is responsible for fitting the ankle tag, testing it, and explaining the device to the offender. The ankle tag is removed at the end of the period specified by the judge. The protected person may ask for amendments to the protection measure by contacting the judge who ordered it or who is responsible for its monitoring.


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