You can report a crime to the local police, preferably in the area where the crime has taken place. In an emergency you can always telephone 112 to contact the police. In non-emergency situations you can go to the nearest police station. The addresses of police stations are listed on the website of the local police force in Dutch and French.
If you are a Belgian citizen or a Belgian resident (e.g. you have been granted permanent residence in Belgium), you can report some petty crimes (e.g. vandalism, shoplifting and theft of a bicycle) online in Dutch, French or German. In addition, anybody, including tourists, can report internet-related crime online via a dedicated website which is available in Dutch, French, German and English.
A few offences can be prosecuted only if the victim files a complaint (e.g. stalking, defamation and libel).
You do not have to report the crime immediately, but it is in your interest to do so to enable the police to have detailed information about the facts and circumstances of the crime and any damage or injury that you have suffered as soon as possible. You should also bear in mind that after a certain period of time it will no longer be possible for the authorities to prosecute. This time bar or period of limitation is specified by law and varies according to the crime, ranging from six months to fifteen years.
The police will interview you and draw up an official report. During the interview you have a number of rights which continue to apply if you make another statement later on. Whether you are interviewed as a victim or as a witness, the police officer must explain to you before the interview that:
If you speak a language other than that in which the proceedings are carried out, the police will provide a professional interpreter, unless the police officer can write your statement in your language or asks you to write your statement in your language yourself.
Your statement will be included in the official report which may include the following information:
In your statement you can also indicate whether you need any type of practical, social, psychological or legal assistance.
You should provide the police with copies of any documents, as you may need the original documents later on, for example if you contact your insurance company.
If you are a victim of sexual violence, your interview will whenever possible take place in a special room that offers the necessary privacy.
In most cases the police will send the official report (proces-verbaal/procès-verbal) to the public prosecution service (parket/parquet). The public prosecutor will then decide whether the police have to open an investigation or not. This investigation may be conducted either by the public prosecutor (procureur des Konings/procureur du Roi) (a standard investigation (opsporingsonderzoek/enquête pénale)) or in more complicated cases, or where more intrusive measures such as house searches are needed, by an investigating judge (judicial investigation (gerechtelijk onderzoek/instruction judiciaire)). In some cases the police can decide to conduct an investigation on their own authority and send a complete file to the public prosecution service for further action (police investigation (ambtshalve politioneel onderzoek/enquête policière d'office)). For a number of petty crimes (such as theft of a bicycle), and depending on the circumstances (e.g. if there is no trace of the perpetrator) the police will draw up a simplified official report (vereenvoudigd proces-verbaal (VPV)/procès-verbal simplifié)). This simplified official report will remain at the police station and will not be forwarded to the public prosecution service. Every month a list of all the simplified official reports which have been drawn up will be forwarded to the public prosecutor, and he or she will therefore be made aware of your case. If any new information comes to light which may have an impact on the case (for example, if the perpetrator of a crime is identified), the official report will be forwarded to the public prosecutor and the police will inform you accordingly.
After you report a crime you will receive a certificate. On this certificate you can find your reference number, the name of the police officer who helped you the first time and contact details of the prosecution office, which you can contact to follow up on your case.
On your certificate you will clearly see whether your case will be handled as an official report (this means that the report is sent to the prosecution office, where the public prosecutor will decide whether the crime needs further investigation), a police investigation or a simplified official report.
In the event of prosecution, if you have not taken any further steps beyond making your report to the police, you will be informed by the public prosecutor only of the date, time and place of the court hearing.
If you wish to receive information about any other action taken in respect of your report you have the legal right to register as an injured party (benadeelde persoon/personne lésée). You can submit a declaration that you are an injured party, either personally or through a lawyer, to the police officer drawing up the official report, or to the secretariat of the public prosecution service, or at the police station, or by sending a registered letter to the secretariat of the public prosecution service. You will also receive a template for making such a declaration when you receive the document confirming you have made a report.
As an injured party you will receive information in writing about the decisions taken by the public prosecutor (for example, a decision to close the case and the reasons for this, or a decision to start a judicial investigation) and the date of any hearing before an examining court. You will also have the right to add any document that you deem useful to the file. You will additionally have the right to request access to the file and to obtain a copy of it.
If you want to make a claim for damages, or obtain further rights, you must enter a claim as a civil party to the criminal proceedings1 (burgerlijke partij/partie civile). You can do so by submitting an express declaration to that effect personally or through your lawyer at any stage of the proceedings. As a civil party you can request access to the case file and obtain a copy of it, ask for additional investigative steps to be taken, claim damages, bring legal challenges against the decisions reached, and be consulted and informed regarding the imprisonment of the offender.
As a civil party to the criminal proceedings or as an injured party you will have the right to be represented by a lawyer in your contacts with the authorities. Investigations are confidential in Belgium, and it is not possible for you to be present during the investigation (e.g. for the questioning of the suspect), except where there is a visit to the scene of the crime in order to carry out a reconstruction, in which case a civil party may be present.
You are not required to prove either the occurrence of the crime or the guilt of the perpetrator yourself.
It is not possible to have your loss or damage reimbursed at this stage of the criminal proceedings.
Once the official report has been forwarded to the public prosecution service and prosecution has started, you can no longer stop the criminal proceedings. This is so even where the offence can be prosecuted only if reported by the victim, which is the case with stalking for example.
During the investigation you are likely to be interviewed as a witness.
As a witness you (as well as your family members and relatives) can benefit from the following witness protection measures:
If you have suffered from a crime committed by a criminal organisation or from a serious offence such as the kidnapping of a minor, arson or murder and the measures listed above are not sufficient, special protection measures can be granted. These include (also applying to family members and relatives):
Reimbursement may be available for any travel and accommodation expenses incurred as a result of acting as a witness in the criminal proceedings. Witnesses can also apply for half-day compensation for time missed from work. These costs are paid by the state budget, but will have to be reimbursed by the defendant if found guilty.
When you have been granted a protection measure or if you are not in the country, you can be interviewed by videoconference or tele-conference by the public prosecutor or the investigating judge.
If you are under 18 years of age and you are the victim of a crime, you have the following additional rights during the interview:
To prevent you from being interviewed several times your interview may be recorded or videotaped. If you are under the age of 12 your interview may be recorded on video; you must be informed beforehand. If you are older than 12 your interview may be recorded on video only if you give your permission. These interviews take place in specifically equipped rooms.
Where you have been the victim of sexual abuse, prostitution or pornography, the period of limitation after which the case can no longer be prosecuted does not start running until you have reached the age of 18.
If you are a victim of crime and a minor, the police will also refer you to a specialist centre for victims of child abuse.
You will also be shielded against disclosure of your identity in the media, that is to say that the publication or dissemination of pictures, drawings and other materials that may reveal your identity will be forbidden.
The police will give you information about:
This information can be provided in leaflets and brochures or verbally. The brochures are available in the three official languages (Dutch, French and German). In practice, information given verbally may also be provided in other languages (e.g. English).
It is important to know that you will be kept informed of certain developments in your case only if you have registered as an injured party or have made a claim as a civil party to the criminal proceedings1. These are as follows:
You are allowed to make copies of the file, but you will be charged a fee for each copy (around 0.25 to 0.50 euros per copy). However, if your case is being handled by the assize court (hof van assisen/cour d'assises), copies are free of charge.
For initial guidance you can ask for front‑line legal assistance (juridische eerstelijnsbijstand/aide juridique de première ligne), in which lawyers provide free legal advice at certain times on certain days. Where necessary they can refer you to a specialist service or organisation. Consultation are organised in court buildings, civil magistrates' courts (vredegerecht/justice de paix), law centres and some municipal administrations, etc. You can find a law centre (justitiehuis/maison de justice) in every judicial district (their contact details are available in French and Dutch) or you can contact one of the victim support services.
For detailed legal advice, assistance and representation, you need to enlist the services of a lawyer. Depending on your income this may be wholly or partially free of charge, through the second‑line legal assistance system (juridische tweedelijnsbijstand/aide juridique de deuxième ligne). A number of categories of persons in specific situations, such as minors or persons with a mental disability, are always entitled to free legal representation.
For second‑line legal assistance you need to go to a Legal Aid Office (bureau voor juridische bijstand/bureau d’aide juridique) (details in French and Dutch), which is present in every court building. You will have to produce documentation showing either that you belong to one of the special categories or that you are on a low net income. The Office will decide within a fortnight whether to approve your application and send you the contact details of your assigned lawyer. It is also possible to ask a lawyer of your choosing whether he or she is willing to work under the second-line legal assistance arrangements. If the lawyer agrees to this, he or she will contact the Office on your behalf in order to seek approval for your application.
If your financial means are modest, under certain circumstances you can ask to be exempted from a number of procedural costs (e.g. bailiff's costs and the costs of copies from the book of evidence) under the legal aid (rechtsbijstand/assistance judiciaire) arrangements. To benefit you need to submit a request to the Legal Aid Office of the criminal court handling the case. If you are already a civil party to the criminal proceedings you can submit this request, in writing or verbally, to the criminal court handling the case.
You are also advised to check your insurance policies closely to see whether you have legal expenses insurance. Contact your insurance broker.
If you are in danger the police will ensure your immediate physical protection. Physical protection is possible also for you as a witness if you are in danger as a consequence of statements you have made during the investigation and are willing to confirm your statement in court. In this case the public prosecutor or the investigating judge can send an application to the special Commission on Witness Protection when they deem protection measures are necessary.
If you are a victim of rape or sexual assault you will be protected against media coverage: the publication or spread of pictures, drawings and other materials that reveal your identity.
If you are a victim of domestic violence and you are afraid to return home the police will provide you (and your children) with a safe shelter.
You can also ask the police officer not to include your official details in the official report. Although the police are bound to give such details to the prosecution officer if requested.
In very threatening situations for you or a person related to you the investigating judge can grant you full or partial anonymity (the police does not have any authority in this matter) when certain conditions are met. You also have the right to ask for anonymity yourself. If the investigating judge rejects your request you cannot appeal against this decision.
Partial anonymity means that your identity will not be revealed in the official record of the interview of the hearing and is only possible if there is an investigation led either by an investigating judge or by the public prosecutor.
Full anonymity means that your identity will be kept secret during the whole criminal proceedings and is only possible if:
All employees of the police force and the judicial authorities are obliged to provide you with any necessary information and, where appropriate, to refer you to specialist services. There are various specialist services which offer assistance to victims. During and even after the criminal proceedings you can request the following services:
Access to all of these services is free of charge and completely voluntary.
If you are a victim of human trafficking various private specialist services can provide support. Coordination and cooperation between these services is provided by the Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Prevention of Racism (Centrum voor Gelijkheid van Kansen en voor Racismebestrijding/Centre pour l’Egalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme ). You will also be eligible for a number of special arrangements on residence and work permits if you are granted protection as a victim of human trafficking2.
You can receive medical assistance, but you may be asked to pay for it unless you have valid health insurance (although you may include these costs in your claim for compensation). Citizens of the 27 EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland can benefit from the European Health Insurance Card.
Mediation is possible at all stages of the criminal proceedings: at the police stage (mediation at police level); at the level of the municipalities (mediation in connection with administrative penalties); at the level of the public prosecution service, before a decision on prosecution is taken (mediation in criminal cases) and after the public prosecution service has decided to prosecute (restorative mediation). Restorative mediation is also possible during and after the application of the sentence.
Mediation is available for all types of crimes. The public prosecutor, the investigating judge and the trial judge must inform you of the possibilities for mediation. You can also request mediation yourself.
Mediation at police level (politionele schadebemiddeling/médiation policière) is offered in cases of petty offences (e.g. graffiti, minor thefts, and vandalism) in order to settle the property damage. This type of mediation is available in the police districts of Leuven, Mechelen and Brussels. Mediation takes place before the official report is sent to the public prosecution service. The public prosecutor is informed of the results of the mediation exercise, and if an agreement has been reached the case is usually closed.
Mediation in connection with administrative penalties3 provided before imposing an administrative penalty. It is mandatory when the offender is under 16 years of age. The mediation aims primarily at reimbursement of the damage caused and is carried out by local authority officials.
Mediation in criminal cases (bemiddeling in strafzaken/médiation pénale) may be proposed by the public prosecutor where he or she believes that the crime is punishable by a maximum of two years' imprisonment. This type of mediation takes place before a decision to prosecute the offender is taken, and is carried out by staff of the law centre. As a victim of an offence your main interest will be mediation aimed at reimbursement of your damage. The public prosecutor may propose one or more additional measures to be taken in respect of the offender (psychological treatment or therapy, training, or the provision of services). If an agreement is reached between the offender and the victim over reparation of damage, and if the offender has complied with any additional measures imposed, the prosecution will be dropped (which means that the public prosecutor will no longer be able to bring the case to court). If the offender does not comply with the conditions, the case may be referred to court. Mediation of this kind requires your cooperation, and if you do not agree to cooperate the case will be returned to the public prosecutor, who will take a fresh decision on whether or not to prosecute.
Restorative mediation (herstelbemiddeling/médiation réparatrice) runs separately from the criminal proceedings and does not replace them. The judicial authorities therefore remain responsible for any decision involving criminal prosecution, sentencing, and the application of sentences. This does not, however, prevent you from initiating mediation at any point in the proceedings, that is before the case comes to court, whilst the case is being dealt with by the court, or after the judge has given sentence. Anyone who is directly affected by a criminal case may request mediation. This means that not only can the victim or a offender request mediation, but also, for example, a partner, a family member or a relative. Restorative mediation is carried out by two non-governmental organisations, Suggnomè for the Flemish region and Médiante for the Walloon region of the country. They have local sections in each judicial district. An agreement reached as a result of restorative mediation is confidential and is transmitted to the court only with the consent of both parties. The court's judgment must make mention of the restorative mediation, but does not have to take account of the agreement reached.
Mediation is also available in juvenile cases, and restorative mediation is possible both at the level of the public prosecution service and at the level of the juvenile courts themselves. A group conference (herstelgericht groepsoverleg (hergo)/concertation restauratrice en groupe) can be ordered only by the juvenile court. The judge is expected to give priority to a mediation measure (as opposed to sentencing an offender who is a minor), and to inform the parties to the conflict of this possibility. If the restorative mediation exercise results in an agreement between the victim and the offender, the judge must as a rule approve this agreement . The judge is not allowed to change the content of the agreement, but can refuse to recognise the agreement if the content clearly entails some danger to public safety. Mediation and group conferences are organised by local non-governmental organisations active in the sector of juvenile assistance.
The decisions taken at the end of the investigation differ depending on whether it is a judicial investigation or a standard investigation.
In the standard investigation, the public prosecutor can decide to:
As an injured party or civil party to the criminal proceedings you will be informed of the public prosecutor's decision.
If a judicial investigation occurs the investigating judge must forward the file to the pre‑trial division of the court (raadkamer/chambre du conseil). The court hearings in the pre‑trial division are held in camera: the press and the public may not be present. You and your lawyer may be present, but your friends and family will not be allowed to attend. The pre‑trial division can decide to:
If the pre‑trial division decides to commit the suspect to a mental institution or to suspend judgment, its decision is deemed equivalent to the full judgment of a criminal court, and it will also rule on your civil claim for damages.
As an injured party or civil party to the criminal proceedings1, you will be informed of the date of the hearing. If your case is referred to the criminal court, you will also be informed of the date of the hearing.
You cannot appeal against a decision of the public prosecutor to close the case. Depending on the facts and the circumstances of the case, and the reasons for closing it, it may still be possible to claim damages in the criminal courts (apart from any proceedings before the civil courts):
You cannot summon the offender directly to court, nor lodge a complaint as a civil party to the criminal proceedings, if the offender is a minor.
As a civil party to criminal proceedings1, you can appeal against all decisions of the pre‑trial division, including any decision not to prosecute the defendant, before the indictment division of the court of appeal (Kamer van inbeschuldigingstelling/Chambre des mises en accusation). You cannot appeal against the decision of the indictment division, nor can you subsequently summon the offender to court yourself.
If a decision on damages is taken by the pre‑trial division (where the offender is committed to a mental institution or where judgment is suspended) you can appeal with regard to the damages awarded, but not against the criminal judgment. You have to appeal within fifteen days (or three days when the offender is in pre‑trial custody) at the registry office of the court. The indictment division of the court of appeal will then review your claim for damages.
If, for whatever reason, you did not take part in the criminal proceedings, you can choose to pursue a claim in the civil courts. This possibility is also open to you if the public prosecutor's office decides not to proceed with the criminal case. You bring the civil claim before the civil court by summoning the person who has caused the damage, unless all parties are willing to appear voluntarily. Where an insurer is involved (after a traffic accident, for example) you may also summon the insurer. Procedure in the civil courts differs fundamentally from criminal procedure. If you want to bring a claim in the civil court (burgerlijke rechtbank/tribunal civil) (for example if you were not involved in the criminal proceedings or if your case was closed), you must be prepared to prove that the wrongful act has been committed. If criminal proceedings are in progress the civil court has to suspend the proceedings before it pending the judgment of the criminal court. The civil court is bound by the findings in the criminal case. Bringing a claim before the civil courts will also incur costs.
If you are a foreigner who has suffered from a crime in Belgium you can benefit from all the rights explained above as well as some additional rights aimed to facilitate your participation in the procedure.
You have the right to ask for an interpreter free of charge when you do not speak the official language. It is also possible that you write your statement yourself (or that the police officer writes down your statement). If you are not in the country the public prosecutor or the investigating judge can interview you by videoconference or teleconference.
If you are an asylum seeker you can ask for the appointment of a lawyer free of charge.
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