Victims’ and survivors’ right to speak will be further expanded

From next year, victims and survivors of crimes will have an even greater role in the courtroom. From January 1, 2023, step and foster families can also speak, and later this year suspects will be required to be present if victims and survivors exercise their right to speak. Victims will also be allowed to speak at TBS extension hearings. That is what NOS writes.

Previously, victims were only allowed to speak about the consequences of a crime. Since 2016, they can say almost anything they want: They can directly address suspects and declare them guilty. They can also say what punishment they see fit.

The law for the extension of victims’ rights, which will come into force from next year, was already passed by the House of Representatives in 2020 and was presented by the then Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker. With this, the cabinet wants to give victims and survivors a louder voice.

“As a suspect of a serious crime, you no longer have a choice, you just have to be there in court. It is the least you can do for the victim or the next of kin,” said Dekker at the time. “They must have the opportunity to also tell the suspect what the crime has done to them. That presence can also help enormously in processing such a violent event.”

Criticism

But the expansion can also count on a lot of criticism. “Previous research has not shown that people benefit from it,” Maarten Kunst, professor of criminology at Leiden University, told NOS. However, there is an important caveat: research into this has so far been limited.

Some victims hope that their statement will lead to a higher sentence, says Kunst, but the question is whether that is the case. “You can have the feeling that everyone has listened, but the result can still be disappointing.”

Innocent until proven guilty

According to the Dutch bar association, the right to speak is contrary to the principle that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, writes NOS. This is because a suspect is already a perpetrator in the eyes of the victim, while a judge still has to judge. It becomes especially difficult when the suspect refuses, says Geertjan van Oosten, chairman of the Dutch Association of Criminal Lawyers. “It is not appropriate for someone to accuse the person who in his eyes is the perpetrator with a very emotional argument, while the suspect can only say: ‘It wasn’t me who did this to you.’ It creates very unpleasant situations.”

There are also fears that judges will be swayed by emotional arguments. “We have good referees, but you still run a risk,” says Van Oosten.

Judge Frank Wieland, who became known as the man who gave Holleeder a life sentence, is also not keen on expanding the law. He actually retired this year and in April on the WNL podcast Het Onderzoeksbureau looked back on a number of changes in the judiciary that he had seen during that period, including this one. “I think it’s scary how that role is developing. Criminal proceedings thus take on a color that increasingly excludes objectivity,” he said. “The victim has gone from being an awkward guest to being a protagonist in litigation, and that brings a lot of things with it, and I don’t know if we’re handling this right.”

Listen to the podcast here:

Two-step process

The Bar Association prefers a ‘two-step process’. The judge must first assess whether a suspect is guilty and then decide what type of punishment should be imposed. According to the Bar Association, victims must only be allowed to speak in the second phase. Wieland also argued for this.

The judiciary, the public prosecution and Victim Support Netherlands see nothing in this. This, they say, leads to court cases taking even longer. The disadvantages do not outweigh the advantages, declares Minister of Legal Protection Franc Weerwind, who decided this month that this process will not take place. He also indicated that he has sufficient confidence that a judge can continue to look objectively at the case.

Have you been the victim of a burglary, has your bike been stolen, are you experiencing nuisance from drug dealers or are you wondering how fuel thieves work? Send your story, tips or questions to the editors at Het Crimebureau.

This brand new current weekly WNL research program in crime in the Netherlands can be heard for the first time on Friday evening, January 6, presented by Maaike Timmerman. Part of the program is ‘The Crime Line’, where the research editorial team answers a question every week, which you can send via (audio) message to 06 57832894.

READ ALSO: Judge Frank Wieland retires for good from August 1: ‘Curious for the rest of my life’

By: Marinka Wagemans

Leave a Comment