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Victim Participation in the Criminal Justice System in the European Union through Private Prosecutions: Issues Emerging from the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights

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Private prosecutions are one of the ways through which crime victims in many European countries participate in the criminal justice system. However, there seems to be a reluctance at the Council of Europe level to strengthen a victim’s right to institute a private prosecution. In a 1985 Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers stated that ‘[t]he victim should have the right to ask for a review by a competent authority of a decision not to prosecute, or the right to institute private proceeding.’ Later in 2000 in the Recommendation Rec (2000)19 on the role of public prosecution in the criminal justice system, the Committee of Ministers calls upon Member States to ‘authorise’ victims to institute private prosecutions. Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 is silent on private prosecutions. The DG Justice Guidance Document related to the transposition and implementation of Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 discourages private prosecutions. However, private prosecutions take part in many European countries. It is thus important to highlight some of the issues that have emerged from different European countries on the issue of private prosecutions. Case law from the European Court of Human Rights shows that private prosecutions take place in many European countries. This article, based on case law of the European Court of Human Rights, highlights the following issues with regards to private prosecutions: the right to institute a private prosecution; who may institute a private prosecution? private prosecution after state declines to prosecute; state intervention in a private prosecution; and private prosecution as a domestic remedy which has to be exhausted before a victim of crime approaches the European Court of Human Rights. The author argues that there is a need to recognise the right to private prosecution at the European Union level.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Law, University of the Western Cape, Robert Sobukwe Rd, Bellville, Cape Town, 7535, South Africa,


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