Victim Protection During Criminal Proceedings
The protection of victims during legal proceedings is an important concern for the judiciary in North Rhine-Westphalia. A large number of legal reforms made in the past have improved victims’ position during investigative and criminal proceedings. In addition to the further strengthening of procedural and information rights, victims of criminal offences can make use of psychosocial support during criminal proceedings. Although state prosecutors and courts remain neutral toward all participants during legal proceedings and observe the presumption of innocence owing to their legally defined roles, numerous legal regulations ensure that parties who are presumed to have been injured criminally are to be treated in accordance with their particular protection needs. Their special needs must be taken into account.
To this end, it may be appropriate, for example, to provide witnesses with special waiting rooms in court houses so that they do not encounter the accused. Several courts already have witness support centres which take care of witnesses for the duration of criminal proceedings. In certain cases, there is also the opportunity to take video statements from victims of criminal offences in order to spare them from having to repeat their statements as far as possible subsequently. In the case of certain criminal offences, injured parties can join criminal proceedings as joint plaintiffs and can pursue their interests to their satisfaction. Lawyers can serve victims as legal advisers or as representatives in an accessory prosecution.
Furthermore, there is also the instrument of psychosocial support during criminal proceedings. All victims of criminal offences may make use of this service. It is aimed in particular at underage victims as well as witnesses who are severely affected by serious criminal offences.
Moreover, injured parties can often seek compensation or damages from the offender while legal proceedings are still ongoing by making use of the so-called “adhesion procedure”.
Injured parties can obtain comprehensive information from the Victim Protection Commissioner for North Rhine-Westphalia, who is the point of contact for all victims of criminal offences in North Rhine-Westphalia, or while searching for advice centres in their area.
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The Ministry of Justice has made a large variety of information on victim protection available on its website. The adhesion procedure and accessory prosecution are also explained there.