Who is who in criminal proceedings

Several public authorities and other participants carry out different functions throughout the course of criminal proceedings. Let’s get to know them a little better.

Victim

If you have been the victim of a criminal offence (voluntary manslaughter, rape, act of terrorism, etc.), a misdemeanour (theft, fraud, violence, harassment, etc.) or a minor offence (disturbance at night, damage, minor violence, etc.), the law allows you to obtain compensation for the harm you have suffered and to receive support from a victim support association. In French law, a victim is a person who has suffered, individually or collectively, physical, psychological, moral, or material harm as a result of an offence or whose fundamental and legally protected rights have been seriously affected. A victim does not only mean the person who directly suffered the crime. There may also be indirect victims: these are people who suffer harm (moral or material) as a result of the damage caused to the direct victim, to whom they are related. Someone who thinks they are a victim can file a complaint, either at a police station or gendarmerie, or by writing to the Public Prosecutor. If the complaint leads to criminal proceedings, the offender will be brought before the judge and a trial may take place. The victim is entitled to compensation. From the moment someone commits an offence and there is damage to others, the person who has broken the law must repair the damage. In a criminal case, the victim can register as a civil party and claim compensation in the form of damages. By registering as a civil party, a victim can have an active role in the criminal proceedings (which confronts the Public Prosecutor against the person who committed the offence), since they also become a party to the proceedings and will have access to the file.

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Civil party’s lawyer (victim’s lawyer)

Have you suffered a loss due to damage caused by another person? Do you want to get compensation but don’t know how to defend yourself or what to do? Lawyers are there to help you, advise you on the facts of the case, inform you of the ins and outs of each type of procedure and defend you throughout the legal proceedings. A civil party has the right to be assisted during the trial by a lawyer of their choice. The use of a lawyer is not compulsory for victims in criminal matters, but it is nevertheless strongly recommended. Under French law, if the victim cannot afford legal representation, they can benefit from legal aid, which is granted on a means-tested basis (except for the most serious offences), which means that the State will pay all or part of the costs of the legal proceedings (including lawyer’s fees). 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. The victim’s insurance may also cover all or part of the lawyer’s fees, if the policy includes legal protection or assistance. For more information on victims’ rights during proceedings, click here. The lawyer’s role is to provide information and advice, i.e. to explain to the victim the legal and jurisprudential rules applicable in the case. The lawyer represents the victim, which means that the lawyer can act in their place and on their behalf, even if the victim does not wish to be present at the trial. In criminal matters, the lawyer’s role, in addition to ensuring that criminal law is applied, will be to determine the extent of the harm suffered by the victim in order to calculate the amount of damages that they can request from the court. The lawyer must do everything possible to defend the interests of their client (the victim), but they must practise in accordance with the rules of law. For example, they may not write fraudulent documents in the interest of the victim. They have a duty of loyalty, meaning that they cannot turn against their client to take a position on the side of the opposing party.

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Victim support associations

It is important for victims to feel supported and accompanied. To this end, there is a network of 130 professional victim support associations, federated within the France Victimes Network. These associations are specialised in legal support for victims and are present throughout France and in the French overseas territories. Their aim is to provide comprehensive and multidisciplinary support to anyone who considers themselves to be the victim of a criminal offence, in France or abroad (if the victim is of French nationality). Victim support associations are open to any member of the public, their services are free of charge and interviews are confidential. Every group within in the France Victimes Network offers an attentive listening to identify all the victim’s difficulties. They also provide psychological help, information on victims’ rights and how to claim them, social support and, if necessary, referral to specialised services (lawyers, social and medical-psychological services, insurance, etc.). These services can also be accessed through the national victim support number 116 006 (accessible from abroad by dialling +33 (0)1 80 52 33 76), which is an EU-wide number managed in France by the Federation France Victimes. The mission of the 116 006 helpline is to provide a sympathetic ear to victims of criminal offences in order to provide them with initial general information and to refer them towards associations or structures adapted to their needs, for local support. This number is free, anonymous, and confidential, and it is available 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The victim support associations of the France Victimes Network, approved by the Ministry of Justice, can also be found within judicial tribunals and certain Courts of Appeal, in the Victim Support Offices, in order to accompany victims during trials. To find a France Victimes victim support association close to where you live, click here. There are also other specialised associations that can intervene in the care of certain victims (e.g. women victims of domestic violence, child victims, etc.).

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Interpreter

During a criminal trial in France, the language used to communicate is French. However, someone involved in the trial may not speak French, or may have a disability such as deafness or be mute. In this case, an interpreter should be used. The right to an interpreter is now guaranteed in France by the Code of Criminal Procedure. 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. For example, if a witness comes from Spain and does not speak French, the interpreter will translate the questions put to the witness as accurately as possible, and conversely, the interpreter will translate to the judge, in the most precise terms, what the witness has answered. On the other hand, if the suspect does not speak the language, they also have the right to an interpreter from the beginning to the end of the proceedings, and in particular when talking to their lawyer, if the lawyer is French. The interpreter has a duty of loyalty. They must be meticulous and translate the words spoken as faithfully as possible into the necessary language, in order to avoid misinformation that could subsequently lead to a poor judgement. The interpreter also works in writing. This is useful for the accurate translation of essential documents and expert opinions from abroad. If the judicial authority requires or appoints an interpreter, the interpreter must be chosen from the local Court of Appeal’s national list of judicial experts, or from the list of translators and interpreters drawn up by the Public Prosecutor at the local court. In practice, if necessary, an adult who is not on these lists may be used, as long as they are not one of the investigators, court officials or clerks in charge of the case, the parties, or the witnesses. The interpreter shall take an oath to assist justice in good faith and shall respect the confidentiality of the interpretation being provided. As well as language differences, interpreters can also help deaf and mute people. To ensure equal and fair access to the trial, some interpreters learn sign language to be able to communicate with people with this disability. This work is all the more difficult because the interpreter must not only translate what the person with a disability wants to say, but also convey any emotion, hesitations, and misunderstandings. It is a tough job but it protects the right of access to justice for deaf and mute people.

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Experts

Experts are people qualified in a specific field (medicine, construction, forensic science, etc.), who can help judges on specific technical points. Their opinion is not binding on the judge, but judges may be guided by their conclusions when making their decision. Experts have a duty of loyalty and independence. When they present their report to the judge, experts must swear to tell ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Failure to act honestly and with integrity is punished. They must be completely impartial and have no connection with the judge or either party. Experts are under the control of the judge. The use of an expert can only be ordered by a judge, either at the judge’s own initiative or at the request of one of the parties. When an expert is appointed, they conduct a professional investigation by hearing the parties and collecting their observations, as well as by carrying out technical research. For example, a medical expert can view the victim’s injuries and how they were inflicted. The judge may use a psychiatrist to carry out a psychological personality assessment to identify whether the defendant/accused was able to understand the meaning of their actions. The technical knowledge of these experts is therefore necessary to understand how the offence took place. The mission of the experts, which can only be to examine technical issues, is specified in the decision ordering the expertise. The expert then submits a report to the judge who decides whether or not to take it into account. The judge may also ask the expert to come and present their theory at the trial.

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I was a victim of a criminal offence: consequences and reactions The rights of victims of a criminal offence Criminal proceedings Who is who in criminal proceedings


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