How can I be involved in the trial?
As during investigation, you can participate in the trial as a victim/witness without a specific legal status in the proceedings or you can have a more active role by formally becoming a civil claimant (1).
In any case, you have the right to be assisted throughout the proceedings by a victim assistance association without any conditions and in all cases. Associations’ representatives can help you when submitting your request to become a civil claimant, they can be present at the different hearings and help you understand the acts of magistrates. You also have the right to an interpreter, if you do not speak French or have hearing impairments.
As a victim without specific legal status you:
- have the right to be informed about the date of the trial;
- have the right to be present in the court room throughout the whole trial, if it is public, or only after your testimony, if it is not public and you have been called as a witness;
- have to appear before the court and give testimony, if you are called as a witness;
- can have your expenses (2), related to participation in the trial, reimbursed, if you apply during the trial.
As a formal civil claimant (1), you have a number of additional entitlements. You:
- have the right and obligation to be present throughout the whole trial, regardless of whether it is public or not, because you are a part of the proceedings; if you are not present, you will be presumed to give up your claim, except if you have become a civil claimant (1) during the police investigation or by sending a registered letter to the court;
- have the right to be represented and assisted by a lawyer;
- can ask the court to call witnesses or oppose witnesses being heard;
- can ask questions of witnesses and the defendant through the president of the court;
- can ask for any investigative action, necessary to reveal the truth about the case;
- can make a written submission, regarding the technical aspects of the proceedings, the law and/or the facts of the case, which the judge has to answer to;
- can have, before the court, free copies of the minutes/statement of the crime, the written declarations of the witnesses and the experts’ reports, and paid copies of any other document; access to documents in the courts is not direct, but through the authorisation of the prosecutor and at your own expense.
What are my rights as a witness?
If you are called for an interview as a witness you have to attend the court hearing. The presiding judge will ask you for your surname, first name, age, profession, domicile or residence, whether you have known the defendant before the incident and whether you have any relation to him/her.
Before making your statement you will be asked to take an oath that you will tell the truth. This done, you will be invited to make an oral statement.
You must not be interrupted in the course of your statement. After you finish your statement, the presiding judge, the public prosecutor, the defendant and his/her lawyer may ask you questions. The presiding judge can also show you some of the evidence and ask you for your observations.
An official record of your statement will be drafted.
You can remain in the courtroom after your statement until the end of the hearing unless the presiding judge orders otherwise.
You can refuse to make a statement under oath if you are a relative of the defendant or you are participating in the trial as a civil claimant.
I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?
If you are under 18 years of age, you have the right:
- if you are a victim of a sexual crime or offence, 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 and confronted in the presence of a psychologist or a doctor specialised in the treatment of 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.
- to have an audio visual or sound recording of your hearing in case of murder, assassination with rape, sexual offences of crimes, assault, procuring or barbarism;
- to be provided with 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 consent to disclose it.
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 hall or regional council, and take place at the law courts, social centres or at specific centres for legal assistance.
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 (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 is deemed to warrant 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 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 before 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.
You can be asked to pay back the legal aid you have been given if the court considers the proceedings abusive. If you lose the trial, you can also be ordered to pay the legal costs of the other party (except his/her lawyer’s fees).
How can I get protection, if I am in danger?
In cases of domestic violence against you, the offender can be asked to live outside your shared residence, to refrain from going to certain places or undergo social and psychological consultations.
The court 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 preventive detention, judicial control and judicial restrictions.
You are allowed to ask for a non-public trial, which the judges cannot refuse, if you are a victim of rape, torture or barbarism, accompanied by sexual assault. In all other cases the trial can be non-public only if the other participants agree.
How can I claim damages from the offender or receive compensation from the State?
Your main opportunity to claim damages from the offender in the criminal proceedings is to become a civil claimant (1).
Regardless of whether you have become a civil claimant, you can claim damages before a civil court, proving the fault of the offender, your damage and the link between the two.
You have a time limit of five years from the damage incurred, or ten years in case of physical injuries.
If you turn to a civil court, you will not be allowed to claim damages in the criminal proceedings afterwards. But if you have claimed damages in the criminal proceedings, you can refer the matter to a civil court afterwards.
Under certain conditions, you can also claim compensation for harm done from the State before the Committee for the compensation of victims of criminal offences (CIVI) of the relevant district court. Please consult the factsheet on compensation to crime victims in France (available in English, French and other languages) of the European Judicial Network.
Are there opportunities to reach settlement/conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?
Since conciliation or mediation should be undertaken before any investigation has started, there is no opportunity for such measures at the trial stage.
I am a foreigner. How are my rights and interests protected?
If you are a foreigner, you can, in particular, benefit from the following procedural rights:
- to use an interpreter, if you do not speak French;
- 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; if the defendant is convicted, with no possible appeal of the sentence, you can get residence papers with effect for ten years.
- Criminal Code (Code Pénal) – in English and French
- Criminal Procedure Code (Code de Procédure Pénale) – in English and French
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Last update: 04/07/2018