Guide for appointing a support person for the victim
Victims in need of special support during criminal proceedings
Support person appointed by the court to help a victim of crime during the criminal proceedings
The court may appoint a support person to help a victim of sexual crime, domestic violence or other serious offences against life, health or liberty. The support person may be appointed for the preliminary investigation, the trial, or both. Victims of some other crimes such as procuring and human trafficking may be granted a support person by the court for the duration of the preliminary investigation and the trial if the victim will be heard personally and he or she may be expected to need support. The appointment of a support person by the court concerns that specific person only and cannot be transferred.
The right to be granted a support person does not depend on the economy of the victim. The victim is thus not required to report his or her personal income or wealth or that of his or her parents or spouse. A support person appointed by the court is compensated for his or her expenses according to the State Compensation for Witnesses Act. In addition to a per diem allowance, support persons may thus receive compensation for travel and reasonable accommodation when necessary. This practice enables the support person to travel to the region of the trial if it is held far from where the victim and the support person live. Particularly in cases involving members of vulnerable groups such as children, adolescents, the disabled or immigrants, it may be important that the same support person accompanies the victim throughout the entire legal process. Applying for compensation involves filling in a form that can be obtained from the court. In some cases, it is possible to apply for compensation in advance at the police department of the area one lives in, and the compensation may also be paid afterwards to the bank account indicated by the support person.
A support person may be appointed even if the victim does not have a trial counsel. Such a situation may occur if, for example, the victim does not seek compensation but still may be heard by the court in person during the trial, and it is reasonable to assume that he or she will need support. In a similar manner, a victim of procuring who is not a plaintiff in the case may be provided with a support person by the court for both the preliminary investigation and the trial.
The support person may accompany the victim throughout the criminal proceedings from the police interview to a possible trial at a court of appeal or during certain stages of the process (e.g. only during the trial). The support person is often needed for some time after the trial as well.
Who can become a support person?
Whenever possible, the victim can choose who should be appointed as his or her support person. A person who has given his or her consent and is qualified to be a support person may be appointed to this task by the court. It is important for the support person to understand his or her role as a support for the victim. A person who is a witness in the case cannot be appointed a support person by the court.
The investigation of a crime often involves, particularly in the context of sexual crime, asking the victim about details that may be uncomfortable to discuss, both during the police interview and later on in court if a trial is held. Sexual crimes often evoke strong feelings of shame, and it is not easy for the victim to talk about the events during the police interview and the trial. The presence of the support person should make it easier for the victim to provide an open and truthful account of the events. Unlike the suspect or defendant, the victim is required by law to adhere to the truth. Providing false information may make the victim guilty of a punishable act such as false denunciation or defamation.
The support person may also be a family member or friend. If so, it is important to consider to what extent this facilitates or hinders the functioning of the victim during the criminal proceedings. If someone close to the victim is the support person there is a risk that the victim out of concern for the support person omits certain relevant aspects of the account. For example, although having a parent as support person may give a young victim of sexual crime a sense of security during the criminal proceedings, he or she may lack the courage or willingness to go into all the details of the crime in the presence of the parent.
The support person should also be aware that hearing about and discussing the details of an aggravated crime during the criminal proceedings may generate uncomfortable feelings in the support person. If such feelings arise, it is important that the support person does not use the victim as an aid for processing them.
Application for the appointment of a support person
The application for the appointment of a support person (no formal format required) can be filed by the victim, the counsel or the police. The prosecutor may also propose that a support person be appointed. The application must be submitted in writing to the district court in which the case is being heard or may be heard in the future. If a support person is needed only as the case is forwarded to a court of appeal, the application should be submitted to that court. If necessary, a support person may be appointed during the trial itself. The appointment of a support person by the court concerns that specific person only and cannot be transferred.
Consent to become a support person
In order to be appointed support person, one must provide one’s consent. The support person must understand the purpose of the role and the duty of confidentiality.
Consent may be provided using, for example, the following template:
I agree to become the support person of A for the duration of the preliminary investigation and trial concerning a sexual crime in which A is plaintiff.
I commit to not revealing to an external party any information I have, during my time as a support person, been provided on the crime, investigation and trial or on the personal situation and economy of A.
I understand that violating the duty of confidentiality is a punishable act according to the Criminal Code of Finland.
Name and address
Date of birth
Place and date
Signature and printed name
Duties of the support person
The duty of the support person is to be a personal support for the plaintiff during the preliminary investigation and the trial and help him or her with practical matters pertaining to handling the matter. In dialogue with the victim, it may also be agreed that the support person is present only, for example, during the trial. Generally, however, it is beneficial for the development of trust between the victim and the support person that they meet already at the beginning of the preliminary investigation in anticipation of the police interview or even before the crime has been reported.
The support person is not the victim’s legal counsel or therapist. As implied by the title, the task of the support person is to be a personal support for the victim during the criminal proceedings. Through his or her contribution, the support person may facilitate the work of the counsel by supporting the victim so that the counsel may focus on the legal aspects of the case and the formal criminal proceedings.
The questions that need to be asked to investigate the case may vary over the course of the criminal proceedings. When the preliminary investigation has been initiated, the victim must be supported through practical arrangements that enable him or her to provide an honest and accurate account of the events during the police interview. At this point the victim is often looking for a counsel, and the support person may help him or her find one. As the trial draws near, the victim must be informed about how to act during the trial and what will be expected from him or her.
The role of the support person during the police interview
The support person may accompany the victim to the police interview, that is, the hearing of the victim during the preliminary investigation. At this point the victim usually already has a private or public counsel who accompanies him or her during the interview. The support person may be present during the interview even if the counsel is also participating.
Before the police interview, the support person may inform the victim about what will happen during the interview on a general level. However, the duties of the support person do not include providing legal advice or asking questions pertaining to the crime on behalf of the victim as these tasks belong to the private or public counsel. If the victim does not yet have a counsel, the support person may suggest obtaining one.
During the police interview, the support person is to accompany the victim and consider any needs that surface during the interview. The victim may, for example, need a break at some point. During the break, the support person may ask the victim about how he or she is doing and discuss how he or she experiences the interview.
The police interview may be confusing for the victim since he or she is required to revisit the events of the crime. The duty of the police is to gather the details of the crime, and the questions asked may thus be highly specific. The support person should be aware that the victim may be uncomfortable with detailed questions pertaining to the events under investigation. Moreover, the crime often constitutes a traumatising experience for the victim, and as a consequence it may not be possible for the victim to express himself or herself clearly during the police interview. In these situations, the presence of the support person should make it easier for the victim to give an account of the events and facilitate the progress of the interview.
The role of the support person during the trial
The role of the support person may be particularly apparent during the trial, which is often one of the most challenging parts of the criminal proceedings for a victim of sexual crime, aggravated violence, procuring, human trafficking or other crimes that create an increased need of support. For the victim of the crime, the trial easily evokes feelings of stress and anxiety. If a support person is involved only at this stage, it is in the best interest of the victim that they meet before the trial. This is important since the support person may increase the victim’s feeling of security and alleviate his or her fears and insecurities. In order to gain courage to talk about matters difficult to him or her, the victim must be able to trust the support person. The goal is to make the victim’s experience of the trial more relaxed.
The support person may, on a general level, explain to the victim what will happen during the trial and how one should act during it. The counsel is to talk about these matters in more detail, letting the victim know what will be expected of him or her during the trial and how the trial will proceed from the perspective of procedural law.
In the courtroom, the support person should be aware of how the victim is feeling and how much energy he or she has. If, for example, the support person notices that a break is needed, he or she can inform the counsel or another person who can influence these aspects. During the break, the support person may ask the victim how he or she is doing and discuss how he or she experiences the progress of the trial.
Many victims of sexual crime prefer not to meet the perpetrator after the events. It is possible to have arrangements at the trial that prevent direct contact between the parties. The support person may discuss the need for special arrangements with the victim and then make agreements about them with, for example, the counsel or the district court secretary. Specific needs vary depending on the victim and the circumstances of the crime, but the most common arrangements include a screen that prevents eye contact between the parties in the courtroom and separate waiting rooms to prevent interaction outside of the session.
Collaboration between the support person and the counsel for supporting the victim
The support person may collaborate with the victim’s trial counsel and agree on the distribution of tasks pertaining to practical arrangements. Collaboration between the support person and the trial counsel must be based on careful consideration of the needs and preferences of the victim. For example, the support person and the trial counsel should, together with the victim, decide on who will accompany the victim to the police interview and the trial, respectively.
The support person and the trial counsel may jointly discuss the progress of the criminal proceedings with the victim and provide answers to the victim’s questions. When collaborating, the parties must understand their defined roles and act within them. The support person may discuss the victim’s feelings and experiences pertaining to the criminal proceedings, but he or she is not expected to know the legal details or give advice on them; these aspects belong to the duties of the trial counsel.
Sensitive treatment of victims of crime
Sensitive treatment means taking into consideration the special position of the victim and being aware of how being subjected to a crime and going through the various steps of the criminal proceedings affect the behaviour of the victim. Sensitive treatment makes the victim’s experiences easier to process and facilitates the functioning of the victim during the criminal proceedings. Through his or her actions and behaviour, the support person contributes to the realisation of the victim’s right to a fair trial.
As part of sensitive treatment, it is important to address the victim in a polite and respectful way. The professional role of the support person includes the ability to understand the behaviour of the victim and awareness that the trauma may influence it. The victim may see the situation through so-called trauma glasses. The support person should try to predict various situations and be alert and mentally present when meeting a victim of crime.
Links to key legislation:
Criminal Procedure Act (11.7.1997/689) 2 chapter 1 a §, 3 §, 3 a §, 4 §, 9 §, 10 §