Witness Care and Victim Protection: interview with dr. With Erika Porkoláb
22 February is the European Day for Victims of Crime. For this occasion we interviewed Erika Porkoláb, leader of the National Program for Witness Care and Victim Protection.
What is Witness Care and Victim Protection?
In all Hungarian courts, there is an important aim to decrease the burden of the witnesses and the victims of crimes concerning the court proceedings.
Our goal is to ease the clients’ access to the courts and to provide them with adequate information to support their legal consciousness.
With this, we also help the work of the judiciary. In most cases, victims of crime are heard as witnesses during the trials, and they could experience the hearings as a new trauma. It is important that judges and secretary judges could deal with them in an appropriate manner and they could also assist them with administrative measures.
These efforts are supported by one of the programs aimed to strengthen the service-provider nature of the courts, called the National Program for Witness Care and Victim Protection.
Who can get into the program and how?
Any witness who receives summon from a court, has the possibility to ask questions from a qualified court administrator, a so-called witness-counselor. Only information about the form of testimony and the appearance at court can be shared with the witnesses, but no information can be given regarding the content of the testimony. The contact details of the witness-counselors are available on each courts’ websites.
In addition to witness-counselors, flyers of the courts and information uploaded to their websites may also be useful for witnesses and victims. With these tools, we try to give everyone the opportunity to testify without any fear and influence. Besides providing information about the rights and obligations of witnesses, we also support them with practical and useful information.
What are the benefits of the program for the clients?
People are afraid of what they do not know. It is important to emphasize that anyone who is well informed can appear in front of the court and give testimony in calmer and more prepared way, which is, in principle, every witness’ duty.
Before the hearing and meeting with the judge, a witness can contact the witness-counselor of the court.
The counselor can answer questions like what to do if one may not be able to appear at the hearing or what to do if someone has claims for reimbursement. One can also get information about the legal regulations and ways of witness-protection.
If necessary, a witness-counselor can inform the witness about the possibility to avoid the meeting with the accused or to wait in another room before the hearing, separated from other participants of the trial.
What are the experiences so far? How many people are involved with witness care and victim protection?
The number of witness-counselors is increasing from year to year, along with the development of the necessary infrastructure at the courts. More and more regional courts provide waiting rooms for witnesses where they can avoid the meeting with other participants of the trial. In addition, it is an important goal to ensure that witnesses can give their testimony stress-free, as this also promotes efficient work of the courts.
Getting in touch with witness-counselors became more and more popular lately due to better share of information about this service and the good experiences. There were 6000 registered inquiries to witness-counselors in 2014, 12.000 in 2015 and 15.000 in 2016, while the numbers for last year are still not summarized.
After World War II, the view of criminology changed. Crime became a daily experience, the middle class faced it daily and realized that crime causes damages. Victims of specific crimes have needs, such as recognition as a victim, or need for feeling safe and emotional support. The victims of the different crimes gathered and formed movements for victim protection. As a result of pressure of the civilians, criminology and criminal policy began to deal with the victims.
Victim-policy is a separate policy within criminal-policy that provides victims’ rights and a supporting system outside of the criminal-policy. In Hungary institutionalized victim protection exists from the 1990s. Civil organizations have been formed to support the victims, and also at that time appeared the first victim-policy measures.
In 2004, the National Strategy for Social Crime Prevention targeted to decrease damages, while the National Crime Prevention Strategy 2013-2023 puts emphasis on prevention of victimization, development of victim protection and a better communication. In 2005, the Act on Victim Protection was issued. There are victim support services within the Office of Justice which, on one hand, facilitate the promotion of the victims’ interests and provide sheltered accommodation, on the other hand, they also provide services “bound to charges” such as financial aid, state compensation, legal aid, and reparation.