Victims of violence

Victims of violence can sue before a criminal or civil court to seek compensation for their injuries. They can also seek redress before a special commission, the commission d’indemnisation des victimes (CIVI) a commission charged with compensating the victims of criminal acts. In terms of the award granted to the victim, the CIVI is not bound by the decision of the penal court. The CIVI has two advantages:
i) the victim will be compensated by a solvent debtor, in the case the French government and
ii) the CIVI is a relatively swift procedure (since its only brief is to compensate victims and it therefore does not seek to punish the perpetrator of the violent act).

After a brief description of the criminal proceedings, the system of compensation by the CIVI will be more looked at in more detail.

Criminal proceedings

Who is compensated?

  • victims of acts of violence
  • indirect victims

Indirect victims are also eligible for compensation: this primarily concerns family members (spouse, children, etc.).

Who pays?

  • The person who committed the act of violence

What is the procedure?

The ‘public action’ is carried out in the name of the People against an offender.

It can be launched either of two ways:
  • the police authorities will carry out an inquiry at the request of the Public Prosecutor;
  • the victim will lodge a complaint with the police or the Public Prosecutor;
  • the initiation of a civil action before the most senior of the investigating magistrates.
    However, this can only be done if the Public Prosecutor has already decided not to press charges, or if the victim’s complaint to the police or Public Prosecutor has remained unanswered for a period of 3 months.
The inquiry

The police inquiry remains secret and the victim has no direct access. Once the inquiry is completed, only a lawyer acting on behalf of the victim can obtain a copy of the inquiry.

At the request of the Public Prosecutor or victim, an investigating magistrate may be appointed to, as his name suggests, investigate the case. He normally questions the different parties involved and can, for example, appoint an expert witness to clarify any technical issues. The investigating magistrate decides whether or not there is a case to answer, and, if so, remand the accused to appear before a criminal court.

Filing of a claim for civil damages

At some stage the victim will have to declare his intention to seek compensation, by setting in motion, or joining, criminal proceedings: this is called filing a claim for civil damages in a criminal proceeding.

This has already been done if the victim has lodged a complaint with one the most senior of the instructing judges.

In criminal proceedings, the victim cannot request a custodial sentence for the perpetrator – only the Public Prosecutor can do that – but he can seek compensation for his injuries.

The accused is brought to trial

In the case of a serious felony, the accused may stand trial before a jury, whilst for a less serious offence (misdemeanour) before a criminal court (Tribunal correctionnel) where a professional judge sits.

The court frequently orders a medical evaluation by a doctor to assess the victim’s physical injuries.

Appeal

As already mentioned, if the Public Prosecutor decides that the case is without merit and drops charges against the accused, the victim can avoid its closure by appealing to the most senior of instructing judges.

If the instructing judge rules that there is no case to answer, his decision can then be contested before a special tribunal (“Chambre de l’instruction”).

A victim can lodge an appeal on a decision handed down by the criminal courts, but only on the grounds of a disagreement on the amount awarded – not because the accused has been acquitted.

The appeal of a decree by the instructing judge or a judgement by a criminal court must be lodged within 10 days of the decision.

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What is indemnified?

The direct victim is compensated in full for the harm suffered.
Essentially, indirect victims can seek compensation for moral harm but also sometimes, in the case of married couples, for financial loss resulting from the death of a spouse.

THE CIVI

Who is compensated?

  • The victims of an offence
    In the case of French nationals, the victims of aggression are compensated whether the offence occurred in France or abroad. However, foreign nationals are only eligible if the event occurred in France. For a non-EU member to be eligible, he must be a regular visitor to France or its overseas territories.
    Victims have 3 years from the date of the offence, to submit the case to the CIVI. If the criminal court has handed down a definitive judgement on the culpability of the perpetrator, the statute of limitations can be extended by one year.
  • Indirect victims

Who pays?

The F.G.T.I. (Fond de Garantie des victimes des actes de Terrorisme et autres Infractions, a governmental body paying compensation to the victims of terrorism and other offences).

What is the procedure?

Submitting the file

The victim must submit a case to the CIVI.
There is a CIVI within each High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance). The CIVI will be within the jurisdiction of the plaintiff’s home or where the offence was committed.
The CIVI then transfers the file to the F.G.T.I., which must make an offer within 2 months.
If the F.G.T.I. refuses to compensate the victim, or its offer is rejected, the procedure is no longer considered amicable and is brought before the CIVI.
The plaintiff can submit his observations 15 days before the hearing. He will be called with the F.G.T.I. to the hearing, which is not held in open court.
The CIVI will appoint an expert witness to assess the victim’s physical damage, and if needs be, grant a partial provisional payment.

Appeal

The victim has one month after the date of notification to appeal the CIVI’s decision.

What is compensated?

Direct or indirect victims can obtain full compensation for their injuries if they are victims of an misdeed (whether voluntary, or due to imprudence or negligence) in any of the following cases :

  • it resulted in death or permanent disability or prevented the victim from working for a period of more than one month;
    the offence was a rape, a sexual aggression, enslavement,
  • or a sexual act with a minor;

Victims who suffered less severe injury than those described above are also eligible for compensation, but in that case the award is capped (maximum of € 4.212 in 2014).

Indirect victims can also be fully compensated for harm, primarily moral damage but also the financial impact of the death of a spouse.