How and where can I report a crime?
A crime in France can be reported by anybody who has witnessed it. However, to be considered a victim, you need to report it personally, unless you are under 18 years of age. In that case the report can be made by your parents or guardian.
You can report a crime:
- by going directly to a police station and reporting to any police officer, who will draw up a statement, give you a receipt or, at your request, a copy of the minutes, and transmit your complaint to the prosecutor; or
- by writing a letter, preferably registered, to the prosecutor of the area where the crime was committed or of the residence of the offender, if he/she is known.
You have to submit the complaint in French, but you are entitled to an interpreter free of charge if you do not speak French. Your complaint needs to be signed and include:
- your personal details;
- description of the facts (date, place…);
- the identity of the offender, if you know it;
- an estimation of the damage you have suffered, plus all relevant evidence: medical certificates, receipts for goods stolen, etc. and
- the names and addresses of witnesses, if any.
You have to submit the complaint within a certain period:
- one year for a minor offence (e.g. disturbance of peace at night);
- three years for an offence (e.g. theft, manslaughter, sexual harassment) and
- ten years for a crime (e.g. rape, murder, voluntary manslaughter, acts of terrorism).
How can I follow up on what the authorities do after I report a crime?
After you submit your report, you may be given a reference number. You can ask for information at the police station, at the prosecutor's office of the court in charge of the case, using the reference number, or via a victim support association.
How can I be involved in the investigation of the crime?
Depending on the type of investigation undertaken by authorities, you have a variety of rights.
In cases of police investigation (1), you can:
- be heard before charges are brought against a suspect by the police officers in charge of the case;
- make statements;
- provide additional evidence;
- become a civil claimant (2) by claiming damages before the police officer.
In cases of judicial investigation (1), you can remain a witness without a specific legal status in the proceedings, in which case you need to appear before the investigating magistrate and give testimony if called. You only have the right to be assisted by a lawyer if you are under 18 and are a victim of a sexual offence or crime.
You can also become a civil claimant (2). Then you have to prove the damage you have suffered by providing all available evidence: medical and psychological certificates, receipts for goods stolen, etc. As s civil claimant you have a number of rights, additional to those of the witness:
- to always be assisted by a lawyer;
- to be heard by the investigating magistrate or give information to experts with your lawyer being present, unless you have expressly given up your right to have one;
- to request that some actions be done in the presence of your lawyer, e.g. inspection of the crime scene, hearings of witnesses or another civil claimant, examination of alleged offender;
- to have access to the documents of the proceedings and get copies through your lawyer;
- to take part in the investigation by requesting necessary actions to be done: hearing of witnesses and other participants in the proceedings, confrontation, inspection of the crime scene, expert opinions, etc.; if the investigating magistrate does not answer to your request within one month, you can refer the matter to the President of the investigation court;
- to ask the investigating magistrate to collect information about psychological and other harm that you may have suffered;
- to ask the investigating magistrate to rule on what will happen to the investigation at the expiry of the deadline for investigation – to transfer the case to the court or declare that there is not enough evidence for a trial. If the magistrate does not rule within one month, you can refer the matter to the President of the investigation court.
Regardless of your legal status, you are entitled to an interpreter free of charge, if you do not speak French. No written translation is generally available.
What are my rights as a witness?
If you are called for an interview as a witness you have to appear before the investigating magistrate. You will have to swear an oath to tell the truth. The investigating magistrate will ask you for your surname, first name, age, profession, residence, and whether you are related to, or have a relationship with, the alleged offender.
A record will be made of the questions and the answers. The investigating magistrate, the clerk and you will have to sign each page of the official records. You will be invited to read over your statement as it has been transcribed, and then to sign it if you agree with it. If you are unable to read, the clerk will read the statement to you. If you refuse or cannot sign the statement, this is mentioned in the official record.
If you are unable to appear for your interview for good reasons the investigating magistrate will come to your place or will send an authorised person to perform the interview.
I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?
If you are under 18 years of age, you have the right:
- If you are victim of sexual crime: to submit a report within a certain period of time after you reach 18 (the period ranges from 10 to 20 years depending on the seriousness of the crime);
- if you are a victim of a sexual crime: to undergo a medical and psychological expert evaluation free of charge to determine the nature and significance of your damage and appropriate treatment; to be heard in the presence of a psychologist or a doctor who is specialised in treating children, a member of your family, a special representative or a person appointed by the judge for children; to always be assisted by a lawyer (if no lawyer is designated by your legal guardians or special representative, the investigating magistrate informs the President of the Bar so that he/she can appoint one);
- to have an audio-visual or sound recording of your hearing in case of murder, assassination with rape, sexual crimes, assault, procuring or barbarism;
- to be designated a special representative when a crime has been voluntarily committed against you, if your interests are not completely secured by your parents or legal guardian;
- to have your identity kept secret, unless your parents, legal guardian or the authorities agree to disclose it.
What information can I obtain from police or victim support organisations during the investigation of the crime?
Police officers, accepting your report, will give you information about the following:
- the police service competent to examine your report, if you have reported to the wrong one;
- your right to obtain compensation for the damage you have suffered;
- your right to become a civil claimant and be immediately assisted by a lawyer you choose or one designated by the President of the Bar – at your own expense, or through a private legal insurance or as legal aid, if you are entitled to it;
- your right to be assisted by a victim support association, certified by the state. If you are clearly in need of assistance, the police officer needs to also inform the prosecutor about your situation so that he/she can designate such an association to intervene;
- your right to report your case if necessary to the Committee in Charge of the Compensation of Victims of Certain Offences.
During the judicial investigation (1), the investigating magistrate will inform you:
- that criminal proceedings have begun;
- that you have the right to become a civil claimant and be assisted by a lawyer you choose or one designated by the President of the Bar – at your own expense, or through a private legal insurance or as legal aid, if you are entitled to it;
- of the progress of the investigation every six months, only for the most serious offences;
Can I receive legal aid?
If you have no lawyer in charge of your case, you can get information about how to exercise your rights and obligations through a legal consultation free of charge, which is given to you without conditions of age, nationality or resources. Such consultations are organised by victim assistance associations, by the Bar or by the city or regional council, and take place at the law courts, social centres or at specific centres for legal assistance.
Additionally, you are entitled to legal aid if:
- you are a national of France, of a Member State of the European Union or a third country having signed an international treaty with France; or you live in France legally (not obligatory if you are under 18 or you have become a civil claimant);
- your financial resources (3) do not exceed a maximum, determined each year by decree (not applicable if you are a victim of a deliberate crime against your life or physical integrity; if you receive social benefits and have no other source of income; if your situation warrants closer interest in view of the nature of the case and the foreseeable expenses of the proceedings).
Legal aid covers:
- lawyer’s fees;
- bailiff’s fees, if any;
- expenses for the investigation, experts, etc.;
- any deposit you may be asked to pay.
Legal aid can be full or partial. It is important to apply for legal aid at the very beginning of the proceedings, because your expenses prior to the application are not reimbursed.
You can ask for information and obtain an application form for legal aid through your lawyer, or at a specific centre for legal assistance, at the city hall, at the court office of the place you live or the one in charge of the proceedings.
You cannot benefit from legal aid if you have insurance for legal expenses that covers, partially or totally, lawyer’s fees, legal costs, bailiff’s fees and fees of experts, if any, within the limits determined in your insurance contract.
How can I get protection, if I am in danger?
You can be practically protected by submitting your crime report anonymously.
You have the right, with the authorisation of the prosecutor, not to reveal your personal address and substitute it with the address of the police station.
In cases of domestic violence against you, the judge or the prosecutor can order the offender to live outside your shared residence, to refrain from approaching certain places (your residence, your workplace…) or undergo social and psychological consultations.
If the crime you have suffered from is punishable by a minimum of a three-year prison sentence and your testimony may seriously endanger your life or that of your relatives, the magistrate in charge of matters of liberty and imprisonment can authorise that you make declarations anonymously.
The investigating magistrate can also protect you and your family from threat or pressure coming from the alleged offender by imposing measures to prevent contact between you and him/her, such as imprisonment (temporary custody), judicial control and judicial restrictions.
Finally, it is prohibited to reproduce the circumstances of the crime you have suffered from through any media, if that would undermine your dignity.
What services and assistance can I be given during the investigation of the crime?
You can obtain medical consultation and certification of your injuries from hospitals.
You have the right to be assisted by a victim assistance association certified by the State without any conditions and in all cases. Those associations inform victims of their rights and assist them throughout the proceedings by providing legal advice and psychological support free of charge. Their representatives can help you when submitting your crime report or your request to become a civil claimant. They can be present at the different hearings and help you understand the acts of various authorities.
The associations are often present at the places you visit as a victim of a crime: police stations, hospitals, law courts, social services, etc. You can also get in touch with them by calling 08 842 846 37 (9 am-9 pm, every day). Their addresses and telephone numbers are available at the law courts and police stations or at the special section of the website of the Ministry of Justice and Liberties.
One-hundred-and-fifty organisations for the assistance of victims on regional level are brought together under INAVEM and certified by the Ministry of Justice and Liberties. Their list and contacts can be found on a special map on the website of the Ministry. There are also many organisations, not certified by the State and specialised in corporal damages, domestic violence, car accidents, medical errors, etc.
You can call the hotline for victims of crime, run by the INAVEM, by dialing 08 VICTIMES (08.842.846.37). Calls cost the price of a local call. It allows you to be heard and informed with respect to your anonymity and be directed toward an association for victims or any other agency that can assist you.
Are there opportunities to reach settlement/conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?
Conciliation and mediation are usually applied before any investigation has started, upon the decision of the prosecutor with your consent. Both measures must ensure that you are compensated for the damage you have sustained.
In the case of conciliation, the prosecutor will propose, within six months if the victim is known, different measures to the alleged offender, who has recognised the offence you have suffered from, to repair the damage he/she has caused – a fine, a non-paid job in the public interest, driving licence forfeiture, etc. The procedure is only applicable for minor offences or offences punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. If the offender accepts the proposal, the prosecutor refers the matter to the court to validate the agreement. You will be informed of the judge’s decision, but cannot appeal his/her refusal.
In the case of mediation, the facts of the case have to be clearly established and not too serious – e.g. minor violence, conflicts among neighbours, etc. With the help of a mediator, you and the offender will try to reach an amicable settlement and sign an agreement. Subsequently, the mediator verifies that the measures are effectively applied and sends a report to the prosecutor.
If the alleged offender respects the conditions imposed, the two measures usually put an end to the proceedings.
How will my case continue after the end of the investigation?
At the end of a police investigation (1), the prosecutor may decide to prosecute or to close the file, in any case he/she has to inform you as victim.
At the end of a judicial investigation (1), the investigating magistrate can make one of several decisions:
- to terminate the proceedings, if there is no sufficient evidence to refer the matter to a court;
- to refer the matter to the competent court, if there is enough evidence against the alleged offender;
- to decide that the offender is not legally responsible for his/her acts because of mental confusion.
Can I appeal if my case is closed without reaching the court?
In case of a police investigation (1), you can appeal the prosecutor's decision to drop proceedings by writing a letter to the Prosecutor General of the Court of Appeal. You can initiate proceedings if you call the alleged offender directly before the court or write a letter to the most senior investigating magistrate, clearly stating your wish to become a civil claimant (2).
If the decision of the authorities is to continue proceedings, you cannot do anything to terminate them, except for very specific crimes, such as breach of privacy, slander and libel (except for racial ones), disclosure of personal information resulting from files or computer processing, etc. Then you can terminate the proceedings by withdrawing your report.
I am a foreigner. How are my rights and interests protected?
If you are a foreigner, you can, in particular, benefit from the following rights:
- to use an interpreter, if you do not speak French (moreover, there are interpreters for the more common languages available at police stations);
- to benefit from legal aid, if you are a national of a Member State of the European Union or a third country having signed an international treaty with France;
- if you complain or testify against someone for procuring or human trafficking, to get temporary authorisation to stay on French territory, with the right to professional activity, unless your presence is a threat to public order.
- Criminal Procedure Code (Code de Procédure Pénale) – in English and French
- Criminal Code (Code Pénal) – in English and French
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