Persons with disabilities face many issues in accessing a fair and equal justice in Europe. EDF advocates for this right for victims and for suspected and accused of crimes.

Victims’ Rights

Any person with disabilities can be a victim of crime. Persons with disabilities, especially women and girls with disabilities, are more at risk of being victims of violent crimes including hate crimes, than other persons. Women and girls with disabilities also face gender-based and domestic violence, including harassment and other abuses, such as forced abortion and forced sterilisation. For instance, data shows that women with disabilities are two to five times more likely to face violence than other women, and 34 % of women with a health problem or a disability have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime.

Once victims of a crime, persons with disabilities have difficulties to access support measures and services available to other victims, and to exercise their rights to and in the criminal proceeding. These services available to all victims are often not accessible to them.

Barriers faced by victims with disabilities

Victims with disabilities continue to face many issues when they try to get support and access justice. EDF identifies the following barriers:

  • Lack of information about what constitute a crime and how to report, particularly affecting people living in closed settings such as institutions, persons with intellectual disabilities and Deafblind persons
  • Difficulties reporting crimes because of physical, communication and attitudinal barriers
  • Substituted decision making systems (e.g. guardianship, curatorship) making reporting and access to justice difficult, especially when the legal guardian is the perpetrator of the crime
  • Lack of accessible victims’ services to victims with disabilities, including shelters, legal aid and psychological support
  • Failure to provide procedural accommodation (e.g. sign language interpretation, documents in Braille) to victims and witnesses with disabilities in the justice system and overall lack of accessibility (e.g. court building not accessible to persons with reduced mobility)

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities raised concerns about the rights of victims with disabilities in its Concluding observations to Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary,Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Spain.

Victims’ Rights in the European Union

EU law on victims’ rights

The Victims’ Rights Directive establishes minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime and ensures that persons who have fallen victim to crime, including persons with disabilities, are recognised and treated with respect. They must also receive proper protection, support and access to justice.

EU countries had to implement the provisions of the Directive into their national laws by 16 November 2015.

On 11 May 2020, the European Commission adopted a report on the implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive. The report assesses the extent to which Member States have taken the necessary measures to comply with its provisions. This assessment showed that the implementation of the Directive is not satisfactory. 

For certain groups of victims, the EU adopted specific rules. These rules build on the Victims’ Rights Directive but respond more directly to the specific needs of some victims. The EU legislation exists to provide protection and support for:

In order to assist the national authorities in implementation of the EU rules on victims’ rights, the European Commission set up the EU Centre of Expertise for Victims of Terrorism. The EU Centre offers expertise, training, guidance and support to national authorities and to victim support organisations.

EU Strategy for victims’ rights for the next five years (2020-2025)

In 2020, the European Commission published a EU Strategy for victims’ rights for the next five years (2020-2025).

The strategy sets actions for the next five years, focusing on two objectives:

  • Empower victims to report crime, claim compensation and ultimately recover from consequences of crime
  • Work together with all relevant actors for victims’ rights

The Strategy recognises that persons with disabilities are often victims of hate crimes or use and that their access to justice may be more difficult, especially if they are deprived of legal capacity. It also includes the obligation of the strategy to comply with the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, to which both the EU and all its members states have signed up.

Important actions created by the strategy are:

  • Launch of an EU and national awareness campaigns on victims’ rights (including support for victims with specific needs)
  • Promotion of training activities for people in contact with victims
  • Promotion and creation of support services for victims with disabilities
  • Provisions of EU funding to victims’ support organisation and relevant community based organisations
  • Accession of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, or alternative measures that achieve the same objectives
  • Creation of a Victims’ Rights Platform and appointment of Victims’ Rights Coordinator in the European Commission

Victims’ Rights Platform

The Victims’ Rights Platform was established by the European Commission in September 2020. The Platform ensures a more horizontal approach to victims’ rights. It brings together for the first time all EU level actors relevant for victims’ rights.

Currently, the Victims’ Rights Platform is composed of 34 members that include representatives of EU level networks, agencies, bodies and civil society organisations relevant for the implementation of the EU Strategy on victims’ rights. EDF is a member of the Platform.

More information.

Detainees with disabilities

Detainees with disabilities continue to face many violations of their rights in EU Member States.

In 2017 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on prison systems and conditions. The resolution recognised the failure of EU Member States to protect the rights of prisoners with disabilities.

Violations of fundamental rights are also described in a report of the
Council of Europe on Detainees with disabilities in Europe published in 2018. They range from the non-recognition of their disability, difficult living conditions in unsuitable cells, to lack of access to treatment, failure to provide assistance and support and even ill-treatment and torture. There is also a disproportionate number of persons on the autism spectrum and persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in prison. For example, in France, “nearly a quarter of detainees are said to have ‘psychotic disorders’”. EU rules on detention and pre-trial detention are important to ensure harmonisation of detention rules and respect of fundamental rights across the EU Member States.

In 2022, EDF published recommendations on disability rights in pre-trial detention for a consultation organised by the European Commission. 

EU Justice Scoreboard

The EU Justice Scoreboard presents an annual overview of indicators on the efficiency, quality and independence of justice systems in the European Union. Its purpose is to assist the Member States improve the effectiveness of their national justice systems by providing objective, reliable and comparable data.

For the first time, the 2022 EU Justice Scoreboard takes stock of the specific arrangements in place to support persons with disabilities in accessing justice on equal basis with others. 

The 2022 Scoreboard collects the following information on access to justice by persons with disabilities:

  1. Adjusted alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures
  2. 2020 court survey on needs and satisfaction of persons with disabilities
  3. Persons with disabilities can be listened to in person and express their will
  4. Procedural accommodations
  5. Accessible digital solutions at first instance courts
  6. Braille/Sign Language/Easy to Read and other specific formats available upon request
  7. Information in accessible formats (e.g. digital and paper)

The information collected in the 2022 Scoreboard shows that all Member States have at least some arrangements in place – mostly procedural accommodations or information available in accessible formats. Specific formats, such as in Braille, sign language or easy-to-read, are available upon request in more than half of Member States. Digital solutions for civil and commercial cases, administrative cases as well as criminal cases at first instance court are also accessible for persons with disabilities in just over half of Member States.