Belgium makes it mandatory to inform victims of violence when suspect is released

Belgium makes it mandatory to inform victims of violence when suspect is released
Prison site in Haren, Brussels. Credit: Belga/Benoit Doppagne

In Belgium, victims of physical and psychological violence must soon be informed when a suspect in their case – even when not convicted – is released, if they so wish.

Victims are currently only informed about a temporary prison leave or a final release of an offender who has already been convicted. But that is not yet the case for suspects, meaning that a suspect can be released from pre-trial detention without the victim being informed.

"A small step for justice, but a big step for victims," said Federal MP for the Flemish rightwing N-VA party Sophie De Wit, who introduced the bill. “If you were the victim of threats and violence, then you want to know when the suspect of those offences will be released again, right? That is very important for the peace of mind and the safety of the victims."

The European Victims' Directive also stipulates that victims are entitled to this information, which means that certain judicial districts already apply this obligation to inform, underlined De Wit. "Victims, therefore, depend on the goodwill of the police or the courts to inform them, but that cannot be the intention."

Victims who indicate that they want to know that a suspect will be released will soon have to be informed of this. However, this is limited to criminal offences involving an infringement or threat to their physical and/or psychological integrity.

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It concerns "serious incidents that have an enormous impact on the victim," said De Wit. "In that case, for us, the right to information takes precedence over the risk of harm to the suspect."

On Wednesday, the legislation was put on the table by the opposition in the Federal Parliament. It was unanimously approved in the House Committee on Justice and must now be approved in the plenary meeting of the House.

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