NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:35
editor Police and Justice
editor Police and Justice
The right to speak has a positive effect on victims, according to research published today. Victims feel strengthened and heard by it, although in practice judges deal with the right to speak quite differently.
Since 2016, a victim has been allowed to tell his or her story in court during a criminal hearing. For example, victims are allowed to say what they think of the suspect and what they think is an appropriate punishment.
In recent years, this has led to discussions about whether the right to speak has not gone too far and whether victims really benefit from it. The Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement and Leiden University therefore conducted research into the experiences and effects.
By having their say in court, victims feel recognized and taken seriously. “The right to speak is seen as difficult, but worth it,” the researchers write.
The right to speak for victims and surviving relatives was introduced in 2005. Initially, they were only allowed to talk about the personal consequences of a crime. In 2016, the right to speak was expanded. Since then, victims have also been able to express their opinion freely about, for example, the suspect and the sentence demanded.
About half of the victims speak about the subjects that may be discussed during the right to speak. But they mainly talk about the impact the crime has on them. In doing so, they hope to touch the suspect or influence the verdict.
It is striking that judges deal with the right to speak quite differently. Some judges allow victims to bring items to show, or ask the suspect to look at them. Other judges take a more formal stance.
Where one judge responds to the right to speak afterwards, the other does not do so at all. Also, the right to speak is not always cited in judgments.
Struggle for judges
For victims, empathy from the judge is very important, the researchers conclude: “A disinterested response has a major impact.”
Judges sometimes struggle with harsh words from victims or next of kin, the research shows. It is not clear to every judge where the boundary lies.
The researchers believe that the judiciary should pay more attention to what is and what is not allowed within the right to speak and how judges should respond.
A key goal of the 2016 expansion was to contribute to the “emotional recovery” of victims. According to the report, speaking freely can indeed help with processing and acknowledging the suffering inflicted on victims.
Although the degree of satisfaction also depends on how things progress. Those who are not happy with the verdict or the way in which a suspect reacts are often also less satisfied with the right to speak.
Many victims find it difficult when a suspect does not give a beating. The researchers therefore wonder what the consequences will be if suspects are soon required to be present at the right to speak.
“Victims find it annoying when the suspect is not present, but a negative reaction or lack of reaction also affects the victim,” they write.
Lawyers were concerned that suspects would be predetermined guilty and possibly subjected to more severe punishment. This has not been explicitly investigated, but according to the report there are no indications that this is done in an “undesirable way”.
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