Supporting vulnerable victims of crime through the justice system

by Trang Chu Minh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 April 2017 13:24 GMT

REUTERS / Yves Herman

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People with intellectual disabilities are almost ten times more likely to fall victim to a crime than their peers with no intellectual impairment, yet the current justice system in Spain provides little support to ensure that their vulnerable condition is accounted for.

TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s pro bono legal programme, partnered with Fundación Carmen Pardo-Valcarce, a disability rights organisation, and lawyers from White & Case and WilmerHale to push for legal reform to address this issue.  

Not only do vulnerable victims of crime suffer enormous physical, economic and emotional trauma as a result of the criminal act itself, they are also at tremendous risk during criminal proceedings. Poorly adapted law enforcement and judicial procedures, and the lower level of credibility attributed to the testimony of victims with intellectual disabilities make them vulnerable to intimidation and repeat victimisation. 

Fundación Carmen Pardo-Valcarce (FCPV) approached TrustLaw in February 2016 for legal assistance in identifying best practices and areas for reform in the protection of vulnerable victims of crime in the EU. International law firms White & Case and WilmerHale took on the year-long research project which focused on the 2012 EU Directive establishing minimum standards for the protection of victims with special protection needs.

Most of the examined countries, including Finland, France and Italy, have adopted laws implementing the EU Directive, and developed protocols to support victims with special protection needs. The majority of these regulations, however, focus on the rights and protection of minors, with few policy provisions targeting other vulnerable groups, including people with intellectual disabilities.

Spain introduced national legislation implementing the EU Directive in April 2015. But while the 2015 law outlines the need for training every professional who comes into contact with vulnerable victims, including judges, prosecutors, law enforcement agents, healthcare and social services professionals, it doesn’t specify what type of training is required for each of these professions.  

Victim assessment guidelines are set out for police forces to ensure that special protection measures are put in place for vulnerable victims of crime. No equivalent guidelines have been established, however, to assist these victims in courts.

The law also calls for the creation of Victim Assistance Offices, but doesn’t consider the  legislative powers of autonomous communities, which could hinder the establishment of these offices.

“To address these loopholes, we have used the pro bono legal study to advocate for additional reforms in Spain and the EU that would ensure the full implementation of the EU Directive and Article 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which guarantees access to justice for people with disabilities”, says Jacobo Cendra, Counsel at Fundación Carmen Pardo-Valcarce.

Recommendations include providing physical and emotional support to vulnerable victims of crime, reducing the number of statements required from them and taking these statements through experts familiar with supporting people with intellectual disabilities.  

The research provided the basis for a report that was presented at the Madrid Bar Association in March 2017, and was subsequently shared with political and legal institutions in Spain and the EU with the capacity to promote legislative change.


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