Information to victims regarding a free counsel and support person for victims of sexual crime and domestic violence

When do you have the right to get a free counsel to assist you during the police interrogation?

If you have become a victim of sexual crime, domestic violence or an aggravated crime against your life, health or freedom, you have, upon reporting the crime, the right to get a free counsel to assist you during the police interrogation. If you are already to be interrogated, the interrogation may possibly be moved to another day if you ask for a counsel.

Who can function as a counsel?

The counsel may be a public counsel from a legal aid office, a private lawyer or any lawyer who has the right to function in court.

Why do you need a counsel?

A counsel can help you during the police interrogation by mentioning facts with legal significance. He or she may also help you when you are thinking about possible legal demands and giving your final statement about the preliminary investigation.

Before the trial, the counsel tells you about how the trial is conducted. He or she also informs the court about any practical arrangements you would like to have, for example measures to prevent eye contact between you and the suspect.

During the trial, the counsel makes sure that all facts important to your case are taken into consideration.

When do you have the right to get a free counsel to assist you during the trial?

You have the right to get a free counsel to assist you during the trial if the prosecutor presents your case as one of sexual crime, domestic violence, or an aggravated crime against you life, health or freedom, and if you have demands concerning the suspect.

Your demands may be that the suspect be punished or forced to pay compensation. The police will ask you whether you have any such demands. If it is a so-called injured party crime (lesser crimes that are not publicly prosecuted), the case will not be forwarded unless you demand that the suspect be punished. An injured party crime may also be forwarded by the prosecutor if the plaintiff has demands of punishment for the suspect and all other requirements for starting a prosecution are met.

When do you have the right to get a free support person?

In addition to the counsel, you have the right to get a free support person to assist you morally both during the police interrogation and during the trial. With the support person you may freely and confidentially discuss any feelings you encounter. However, the support person is not in a position to give legal advice. The support person may, for example, be a friend (excluding those who are likely to be used as witnesses) or someone from the Finnish Victim Support.

What is the “domestic violence” that gives you the right to get a free counsel and support person?

According to the Finnish criminal code, domestic violence has happened when the victim is the culprit’s spouse or former spouse, sibling, relative in direct line of ascent or descent, or a person, who is living or has lived with the culprit in a shared household or in other ways had a similarly close relationship with him or her (Criminal Code 21. chapter 16. §).

A victim of an assault which is not considered aggravated does not have the right to a free counsel, but can still get a free support person.

Relevant sections of the law

Law about trials in criminal cases 2. chapter 1a. §, 3. §and 10. §.

Päivi Vilkki, Master of Laws, coordinator, the Senja Project