Protections and Support to Victims and Witnesses in Polish Criminal Proceedings

Protections and Support to Victims and Witnesses in Polish Criminal Proceedings

                Recently in Polish Legal System one could observe a real breakthrough in approach to victims of a crime. It was caused by the new parliament protection and support to victims and crime witnesses act. It is first law regarding strictly the victims of a crime. It establishes brand new mechanism of protection and support to the victims and witnesses. As it is said in justification of this act its grounds derives from Crown Witness Act which is in force since 1997. Up till now Polish Legal System did not have any special regulations concerning victims of a crime. It was unacceptable especially after implementation 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. The new act is an important element of the great amendment of Polish Criminal Proceedings.

The new Victims and Witnesses act founds three basic mechanism of protection and support. It could be applied during before starting the criminal proceedings – in operational phase, during the proceedings and what is most important also after the proceedings. It regards victims, witnesses and their families as well. The basic prerequisite to implement established institutions is a threat to life and health of a victim, witness or their families. Among those three mechanism are:

  • Protection during procedural actions;
  • Personal protection;
  • Assistance in changing the place of residence.

First one – protection during procedural actions – has the elemental status. It involves protection of police officer during the undertaken actions in criminal proceedings. Two other protections measures have subsidiary nature. These mechanisms can be used only when there is higher threat to life and health of victims or witnesses. Personal protection can be based on permanent or temporary presence of police officer nearby victim or witness. The farthest-reaching measure is assistance in changing the place of residence. It could be applied only if two other measures would be recognized as insufficient. One might get also a financial support for accommodation in a new place (up to 3.500 zł).

Additional mechanism – independent from these mention above – is psychological support to a victim, witness or their families. It will be given by special organization specialized in dealing with victims’ problems during criminal.

Parliament entrusted execution of this act to the Commander of the Voivodeship Police Headquarters. This officer will assign protection and support basing on the submitted applications. He can also revoke his decision if conditions hasn’t been fulfilled (obligatory or discretionally).

Adopted mechanism were criticized by scholars because it does not answer for the demands of the practice. Now everybody is waiting for the first results of the established law. After first few months some answers will be available and then will be the best time for evaluation of implemented solutions.


Piotr Karlik, Ph.D.

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