Victims with specific protection needs are people who, owing to their personal characteristics, the type or nature of the crime, and the circumstances in which it occurred, are particularly vulnerable to repeated victimisation, secondary victimisation, intimidation or retaliation.
These victims will therefore require special care, especially with regard to their level of protection.
This vulnerability should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Particular attention should be paid to victims who suffered considerable harm due to the severity and gravity of the crime, to victims of crimes committed for discriminatory reasons related to their personal characteristics, and to victims whose relationship to and dependence on the offender make them particularly vulnerable.
Special care should therefore be given to victims of terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking, gender-based violence, violence in close relationships, sexual violence and hate crimes. Regardless of the type of crime, children, the elderly and those who suffer from an illness or disabilities should be given particular attention when being assessed for specific protection needs.
When a particularly vulnerable victim has to participate in any part of the proceedings, the Public Prosecution Service or the judge should take steps to ensure that this takes place under the best possible conditions. The purpose is to ensure that the victim answers spontaneously and sincerely:
- the statements of particularly vulnerable victims should be taken as soon as possible;
- these interviews should be carried out by a trained professional and, if the victim needs to be questioned more than once, the interviews should, in principle, be conducted by the same person;
- interviews with victims of sexual violence, gender-based violence or violence in close relationships, when not conducted by a judge or a public prosecutor, should be conducted by a person of the same sex as the victim, if the victim so wishes;
- all parts of the proceedings should be organised so that a particularly vulnerable witness does not meet certain participants in the same proceedings, particularly the defendant;
- when it is necessary to avoid visual contact between the victim and the defendant, the victim should be questioned using an appropriate means of concealment or teleconferencing and need not even be in the courtroom;
- the victim will be questioned by the judge, and afterwards, the other judges, the public prosecutor, the defence lawyer and the lawyers of the civil parties may suggest additional questions which are then asked, not directly by these people but by the judge;
- victims must not be asked questions about their private lives that are unrelated to the offence committed against them;
- in some cases, the different parts of the proceedings, including the trial, may take place without the presence of the public.
As soon as a particular vulnerability of the victim is identified, a social worker or other person who is suitably qualified should be appointed to accompany them and, if necessary, psychological support should be provided by a specialised professional.
At any stage of the proceedings, the judge, at the request of the Public Prosecution Service, may decide to have particularly vulnerable victims removed from their family or closed social group and have them placed in an institution.
All these measures may also be applied to witnesses who may be considered particularly vulnerable according to the criteria mentioned above.
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