Witness care and victim protection
One of the strategic goals set by the President of the NOJ is to simplify access to the courts, in connection to which the NOJ has been engaged in witness care in the scope of a separate national programme since 2013. It is common that the witness care representatives are the first persons whom the clients meet at the court, and consequently they are one of the key elements of enhancing trust in the courts. The national witness care programme was complemented with victim protection in 2015 due to the fact that in almost all cases the victims of crimes are interviewed as witnesses in the proceedings.
In 2015, witness care was not only present among the programmes and strategic goals of the NOJ but also appeared as one of the services to be provided by the state to the victim after the assessment of and adjusted to his/her needs set out in Act CXXXV of 2005 on Helping the Victims of Crimes and the Mitigation of Damages by the State (hereinafter referred to as: ‘Victim Care Act’).
Pursuant to Section 4(5) of the Victim Care Act, a witness summoned to a court hearing may turn to a court victim care representative in order to request appropriate information. The court victim care representative is an administrator of the court who provides information in the manner set out in a separate legal act in order to facilitate the giving of testimony and the appearance at the court necessary to this end. This act raised the institution of witness care to the level of laws and named it as one of the services to be provided by the state, however the courts had - supporting the strategic goals of the President of the NOJ - already made significant efforts prior to that in order to effectively ensure the enforcement of the rights of witnesses and victims and to facilitate the performance without fear of the obligation to bear witness. The facilitation of the obligation to bear witness also promotes the timeliness of the administration of justice.
Lack of information, the unknown generates fear in clients, consequently the national programme focuses on
- providing wide-range easily comprehensible information to witnesses regarding their procedural rights and options,
- facilitating the enforcement of their rights, including their rights as victims, without prejudice to impartiality, and
- facilitating that the witnesses can give testimony without fear.
One element of the sensitive treatment of witnesses is that whenever possible, the courts ensure that the witness can wait and be interviewed at a location separated from the defendant and other participants of the proceeding. The judiciary organisation assists in the fulfilment of the obligation to bear witness also by striving to provide easily comprehensible and accurate information in the widest scope possible, such as in the summons, websites, customer orientation materials and any posters, media representations and social networks. In most cases, this wide-range information covers not only the presentation of rights and obligations but also provides practical information to the witnesses.
The training of judicial employees in order for them to be able to recognise victims during their work regardless of their position in the procedure is a key task of the NOJ and the courts both at the national and the regional level.
In addition, it is also our aim to ensure that victims receive professional help that is appropriate to their situation, which requires an information network via which the court employees can refer the victim to the appropriate body. It is not only the regional courts that are committed to the establishment of the victim protection network but also the NOJ, and therefore the NOJ is striving to establish close cooperation with the National Police Headquarters and the partner organisations of the child protection network.
The number of witness care representatives has been increasing in a well-visible manner year by year: the headcount of 85 persons recorded in 2013 increased to 241 by 2016, and reached 286 in 2017. That decreased to 269 in 2018 as shown by the diagram below: