‘Suspect can no longer avoid facing victim in court’: justice ministry

A gavel in a courtroom.Photo: Depositphotos

People accused of serious violent and sexual crimes will have no choice but to appear in court if victims want to exercise their right to speak, the justice ministry announced on Thursday.

Up to now, suspects have had the option whether or not to appear in court during their trial.

‘It is of the utmost importance that victims are given not only given the opportunity to speak but that they are heard. Suspects have to be confronted with the misery they have caused to victims,’ justice minister Sander Dekker said.

The right of victims to speak in court has been part of Dutch trials since 2005. According to the Volkskrant it has the support of most political parties but is controversial among lawyers. Prominent lawyers Bart Nooitgedagt and Peter Plasman told the paper they object to what they consider ‘the rise of emotion’ in court: formally a ‘perpetrator’ is only a suspect at that stage and ‘emotions can jeopardise the neutrality of the trial process’.

But the minister, in an interview with the Volkskrant, said the rights of the victims had been ignored for too long. ‘For a long time now we have not been paying enough attention to victims. A trial was something between the government and perpetrators and was rooted in the idea that if the perpetrator was punished by law, that would help the victim. But it’s not enough,’ he told the paper

The minister also wants to to improve support for victims of crime and boost the options for financial compensation. In particular, their names and addresses will no longer be included in the trial documents.

‘Victims have not chosen to become victims. And if they suffer financial damage as a consequence they must be compensated as quickly as possible,’ he said.