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Training Module: The Status of Victims of Crime in Criminal Proceedings and Their Access to Legal Aid’

Key speakers

On 20 March 2014 the Center for the Study of Democracy held a training module on ‘The Status of Victims of Crime in Criminal Proceedings and Their Access to Legal Aid’ where judges, prosecutors, attorneys and representatives of the Ministry of Justice participated.

In her opening remarks Dr Maria Yordanova, Director of the Law Program of the Center for the Study of Democracy, welcomed the participants and shortly presented the main activities of the Center and the initiative ‘Improving protection of victims’ rights: access to legal aid’ within the framework of which the module took place. She outlined the long-term research interest of the organization in the improvement of the status of vulnerable groups and the other initiatives of the Law Program in this regard.

After a short presentation of each of the participants, Ms Gergana Mutafova, regional prosecutor of Plovdiv, laid out the key legal standards of Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA and the current status of Bulgarian legal framework in this area. Ms Mutafova pointed out that criminal procedure often pays more attention to the rights of defendants and victimology is rarely studied in universities.

Ms Miriana Ilcheva, Research Fellow with the Law Program of the Center for the Study of Democracy, presented the factsheets on the rights of victims in criminal proceedings, part of the European e-Justice Portal, whose initial drafting was coordinated by the Center’s experts. She outlined the challenges of creating such factsheets for all EU Member States and the conclusions drawn from them about Bulgarian law and practice.

Ms Petya Dobreva, Director of Legal Aid Directorate with the National Legal Aid Bureau described the experience of the Bureau in providing legal aid to victims of crime. She pointed out among the main problems of working with victims their low level of information and legal knowledge, as well as the low threshold, used to define indigency as criterion to be granted aid. Ms Dobreva emphasized the necessity of creating minimum standards for granting legal aid by attorneys, as well as a reliable statistical module on the aid given, and described the demotivating effects of the inadequate remuneration of attorneys under the Law on Legal Aid. She also gave a quick overview of the pilot initiative of the Bureau on national hotline for primary legal aid and regional consulting centers in the towns of Sliven and Vidin.

Mr Plamen Stefanov, attorney-at-law and co-ordinator of the Regional Consulting Centre in Vidin, supported the view that legal aid for victims forms a very small part of the overall legal aid provided and outlined the difficulties victims faced in obtaining their compensation from offenders, ruled upon by the courts. Mr Stefanov described the working procedures of the centre in Vidin and the ongoing visits of consulting attorneys in neighboring municipalities for consulting sessions. According to him, small burglaries present a particularly grave problem for the Vidin area, since criminal proceedings on them are often terminated due to the little value of the goods burglarized.

In the ensuing discussion Ms Gergana Mutafova elaborated on the small number of compensations under the Law on Support and Financial Compensation of Victims of Crime and the fact that criminal proceedings cannot be opened for every illegal act, harming citizens. Ms Valentina Adirkova, attorney-at-law from the Sofia Bar Association (SBA), stressed upon the larger volume of rights of accused and defendants in comparison with those of victims and agreed with her colleague Mr Vladislav Yanev, attorney-at-law, that victims suffer from a number of deficiencies in substantive and procedural law. Ms Radka Stoyanova, prosecutor in the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, criticized the current Criminal Procedure Code as falling behind victims’ rights framework from the 1990’s by constituting victims as parties only in trial proceedings and not observing fully equality of arms and protection of vulnerable groups. Mr Hristo Botev, attorney-at-law from the SBA, gave positive examples from his practice as counsel of victims and expressed his view that the problems they face are largely organizational.

По време на семинара
Прокурор Радка Стоянова от Софийска градска прокуратура
Адвокат Владислав Янев от Софийската адвокатска колегия
Адвокат Валентина Адиркова от Софийската адвокатска колегия
Адвокат Пламен Стефанов, координатор на Регионалния консултативен център във Видин

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