Suspects will soon be obligated to listen to their victims in court

Edition 22 March 2018, by Bárbara Luque

On February 22, European Day of the Victim, the Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker announced new government measures that would require suspects from serious violent or sexual offenses to appear in court to listen to the statements of victims or relatives. In a letter addressed to the House of Representatives, Dekker explained that in the present, detainees have the option to stay away when the victims use their right to speak in court. “I think that’s crazy and that’s why I put an end to it”, declared the Minister to de Volkskrant.

In an effort that will include the police, judges, and criminal lawyers, the government aims to protect and increase the rights of victims of violent or sexual offenses. Dekker wants to change the general view that criminal law is primarily at the service of the perpetrator. This would assure that the victim has a voice and that it will be heard. The obligatory confrontation of perpetrators with their victims would be a way of focusing in the rights of the victim and thus strengthening their position in court. “The criminal process was something between government and perpetrator, based on the idea: if the perpetrator is convicted, the victim is helped. But that is not enough.”

Since 2005, there’s been a notorious evolution on the right to speak of victims of serious crimes. Before said date, the Public Prosecution Service acted as the agent of the victim, but then the victim got a limited right to speak, being allowed to comment solely on ‘the consequences of the offense’. Later on, the victim’s right to speak was extended once in 2012 and again in 2016. The Dekker proposal would represent a next step in this process. Nevertheless, the new legislation has not been received smoothly by everyone. Criminal lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops has disputed the proceeding of the measure by defending the right of the perpetrator to a fair trial, and a reminder of their status of ‘suspect’. Also, renowned lawyers Bart Nooitgedagt and Peter Plasman stated the problem that an ‘advance of emotions’ would represent in court, and how this could jeopardize the impartiality of the case.

Lawyer Sebas Diekstra has stated that although Dekker’s plan proves to be a good start in the process of protecting the victims, it has its flaws, starting with the fact that these obligations will only apply to suspects who are in prison. Moreover, lawyers criticize the law arguing that not all victims necessarily want to go into confrontation with suspects, so the possibility to oblige someone to be present can turn out to be a bigger grievance for the victim. Dekker responded to this by assuring that the legislation can be flexible depending on the victims’ needs: “For victims who want to avoid the (physical) confrontation with the suspect, appropriate measures will be taken around the session.” In addition to the negative arguments, there is the fact that the legislative request will include a regulation for victims’ family members to speak of the victim, as well as the ability to submit requests when the offender’s TBS (provision) period is terminated (e.g. about not wanting to have the perpetrator living in their neighborhood). This is an issue that lawyers consider as a factor of confusion about the relationship between the parties involved.

All in all, lawyers want to make clear that this new step in the right to speak should be taken with caution, with careful consideration of involved regulations. The victim, prosecutor, and judge roles shouldn’t get confused in the process. The whole proposal will be submitted by Dekker to the House of Representatives at the end of this year.