Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights

The 3rd Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force on 31 December 2015 (with the exception of the provision concerning psycho-social support during the proceedings (Art. 1 no. 12 and Art. 4), which entered into force on 1 January 2017).

The act implements Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.

It strengthens the protection and support provided to victims in court. In addition, victims shall receive more information on the proceedings following the filing of charges. In the event of a language barrier, the victims are entitled to interpretation during interviews by the police and public prosecution. Children and youths who are the victims of severe violence or of sexual abuse are entitled to free psycho-social support during the proceedings. In the case of an especially high need for protection, this also applies to adults.

Significant amendments include:

Minimum standards for the rights of victims of crime

Hearings and interviews must be carried out with due thought given to the specific requirements for the protection of the victims. Here, the following must be taken into careful consideration: possibility of hearing witnesses in the absence of the defendants (Section 168e of the Penal Procedure Code), and if required, of using audio-visual hearings (Section 247a of the Penal Procedure Code), or to hold closed hearings during the main proceedings (Section 171 b para. 1 of the Judicial Systems Act), as well as of restricting questions asked concerning the witnesses’ private lives (Section 48 para. 3 p. 2 of the Penal Procedure Code).

The victims’ information rights and duties regarding their powers during and outside the criminal proceedings are guaranteed by law. In addition, the scope of the victims’ rights to information about the proceedings has been somewhat broadened according to Section 406d of the Penal Procedure Code. Various duties concerning the provision of and access to information have been restructured in Sections 406i to 406k of the Penal Procedure Code. Finally, the right of the victims to access interpretation and translation services is set forth in law.

At the same time, this means that criminal prosecution authorities have heightened obligations to provide information. In future, the victims must receive a written confirmation of the charges filed if they demand it.

Act on Psycho-Social Support during Court Cases

This law provides for a right to psycho-social support during the proceedings for child and young victims of sexual and violent offences; for adults, the decision is struck at the discretion of the court (Section 406g of the Penal Procedure Code).

The law defines the principles underlying the psycho-social support provided during court cases and sets forth the requirements for qualifications and payment of the psycho-social counsels during the proceedings. The exact structure of these matters is the responsibility of the federal states.

More information concerning these amendments can be found under: KOK's position paper. It is also available in a shortened version.

Former legislation:

On 1 September 2004, the 1st Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights entered into force. The aim of the recast regulation focused on strengthening the rights of victims during criminal proceedings. The final objective was to shift away from viewing victims in criminal proceedings as witnesses and thus as evidence.

The duty of the social constitutional state is not only to establish the guilt of offenders in legal proceedings. It is just as important to defend the interests of the victims. The Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights provided further important prerequisites to make the process easier for victims who often suffer from traumatic memories of the crimes committed against them and overcome their difficulties. Court proceedings in which the victims are directly confronted with the offence and offenders represent a huge burden for them. In such situations, the pressure on the victims must be lightened as much as possible. The Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights was adopted to strengthen the rights of victims of crime during criminal proceedings.

On 1 October 2009, the 2nd Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights entered into force. 
KOK commented on the draft law including provisions concerning trafficked persons and migrants who were victims of violence in a position paper from 22 May 2009

KOK welcomed the following amendments and provisions:  

- The provisions to improve obligations concerning information to be provided by the criminal prosecution authorities to the victims of crime according to Section 406 h of the Penal Procedure Code

- The amendment to Section 142 of the Penal Procedure Code, according to which the victims may also choose non-local legal representatives. 

The full text of the 2nd Act to Reform the Protection of Victims’ Rights can be consulted under here.

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KOK - Bundesweiter Koordinierungskreis gegen Menschenhandel e.V.
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