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Giving Victims a Voice: On the Problems of Introducing Victim Impact Statements in German Criminal Procedure

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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Historically, victims of crimes were key participants in the prosecution of crimes around the globe. Over the centuries, however, as public police and prosecution service took over the prosecution of criminal acts, the importance of victims in criminal justice systems decreased in common law and civil law countries alike. The victim was sidelined and the victim's role was reduced to that of a witness for the prosecution. As one of the first scholars to comment on the absence of victims from the criminal justice system, William Frank McDonald referred to the victim as “the forgotten man” in criminal procedure.

Copyright © 2013 by German Law Journal GbR 


1 See generally Heather Strang, Repair or Revenge: Victims and Restorative Justice (2002); see also Peter Becker, Eine kurze Einführung in die Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte 13 (2011).Google Scholar

2 See generally Ludwig Frey, Die Staatsanwaltschaft in Deutschland und Frankreich (1850); see also Chris Corns, Police Summary Prosecutions in Australia and New Zealand: Some Comparisons, 19 Tasmania L. Rev. 280, 288 (2000).Google Scholar

3 McDonald, William Frank, Towards a Bicentiennial Revolution in Criminal Justice: The Return of the Victim, 13 American Crim. L. Rev. 649, 650 (1975–1976). The term was repeated frequently in subsequent literature. See generally Joanna Shapland et al., Victims in the Criminal Justice System (1985).Google Scholar

4 See generally M. Ash, On Witnesses: A Radical Critique of Criminal Court Procedures, 48 Notre Dame Law. 159 (1972); See also William Frank McDonald, Criminal Justice and the Victim (1976); See also Shapland et al., supra note 3.Google Scholar

5 UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, GA Res. 40/34, UN GAOR 40th sess, 96th plen. Mtg., Supp. No. 53, UN Doc. A/RES/40/34 (29 Nov. 1985) annex [herinafter Declaration].Google Scholar

6 GA Res, 40/34, UN GAOR 40th sess, 96th plen. Mtg., Supp. No. 53, UN Doc A/RES/40/34 (29 Nov. 1985) [hereinafter Resolution]. The Declaration defines victims of crime as persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power. See id. § A1.Google Scholar

7 Resolution, supra note 6, § 3. Germany, in comparison to Australia, is also obligated to implement the victims’ right to be heard under art. 10 EU Directive 2012/29/EU of 25 Oct. 2012 in national law. Australia, however, is under no such obligation. This paper therefore focuses on the above-mentioned Declaration as an overarching framework for both States. Although the Declaration is legally non-binding on Member States, a Declaration in UN practice creates a “strong expectation that Members of the international community will abide by it.” See Memorandum of the Office of Legal Affairs, UN Secretariat, UN ESCOR, 34th session, support no 8, [15], UN Document No E/CN.4/L610 quoted in Dinah Shelton, Compliance with International Human Rights Soft Law, 29 Studies in Transnational Legal Policy 119, 126–27 (1997).Google Scholar

8 These rights will be discussed in greater detail in part C of this paper. Victims in Germany are traditionally referred to by law as “aggrieved persons.” See 5th book Strafprozessordnung (German Code of Criminal Procedure) (“StPO”) entitled “Participation of the Aggrieved Person in Criminal Proceedings.” Riess explains that the term “aggrieved person” has traditionally been used in criminal procedure in Germany, while the term “victim” has been introduced and used since the debates on the role of the “victim” in criminal procedure in the mid 1980s in Germany. In his opinion, the term “victim” is related to a criminological-victimological point of view not considering the defendant or the crime but solely the victim. He concludes, however, that it is impossible to separate the terms from each other because the terms both refer to the same subject, and the role of the aggrieved person in criminal procedure cannot be defined without considering the victimologic side of things. See Peter Riess, Der Strafprozess und der Verletzte - eine Zwischenbilanz JURA 281, 281–82 (1987).Google Scholar

9 See generally Jo-Anne Wemmers, Victim Policy Transfer: Learning From Each Other, 11(1) Eur. J. on Crim. Pol'y & Res. 121 (2005).Google Scholar

10 Marlene Hanloser, Das Recht des Opfers auf Gehoer im Strafverfahren 229 (2010).Google Scholar

11 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) § 26, 28 (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1997 (Tas) section 81A (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1995 (WA) § 24 (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1995 (Northern Territory) § 106A (Austl.); Crimes Sentencing Act 2005 (ACT) § 47 (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) § 8K (Austl.); Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009 (Qld) § 15 (Austl.); Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) § 9(2)(c)(i) (Austl.); Criminal Law Sentencing Act 1988 (SA) § 7A. No explicit statutory obligation exists in Federal criminal legislation. In Tasmania, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, VISs can only be made for indictable offences or certain prescribed offences. In New South Wales, VISs can only be submitted in case of indictable offences that cause actual bodily harm or death, offences of violence or threatened violence and prescribed sexual offences. In Queensland, a VIS can only be submitted for offences committed or attempted against the person of someone. Only in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory can victims of all criminal acts submit VISs.Google Scholar

12 Garkawe, Sam, Victim Impact Statements and Sentencing, 33 Monash U. L. Rev. 90, 91 (2007).Google Scholar

13 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW) § 30A (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1997 (Tas) § 81A (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1995 (WA) § 25 (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1995 (Northern Territory) § 106A (Austl.); Crimes Sentencing Act 2005 (ACT) § 50 (Austl.); Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) § 8K (Austl.); Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009 (Qld) § 15, 15A, 15B (Austl.); Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) section 9(2)(c)(i) (Austl.); Criminal Law Sentencing Act 1988 (SA) § 7A (Austl.).Google Scholar

14 It appears possible to include a particular sentencing suggestion in VISs in US jurisdictions. See Garkawe, supra note 12, at 108. Further, the VIS form in the Northern Territory allows victims to comment on the sentence they find appropriate. Victim Impact Statement, Dep't of the Attorney-Gen. & Justice, N. Territory Gov't, (last visited August 30, 2013).Google Scholar

15 Wemmers, supra note 9, at 124.Google Scholar

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17 Findlay, Mark et al., Australian Criminal Justice 188 (2009); Donald James Gifford, Understanding the Australian Legal System 94 (1997).Google Scholar

18 See Ratten v. The Queen (1974) 131 CLR 510 (Austl.); See also Findlay et al., supra note 17, at 188.Google Scholar

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26 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, § 244 (3).Google Scholar

27 Doak, Jonathan, Victims’ Rights in Criminal Trials: Prospects for Participation 283 (2005).Google Scholar

28 Kury, Helmut & Kilchling, Michael, Accessory Prosecution in Germany: Legislation and Implementation, in Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Victim Participation in Justice, International Perspectives 41, 48 (Edna Erez, Michael Kilchling & Jo-Anne Wemmers eds., 2011).Google Scholar

29 Id. at 48. Some authors have contemplated whether defendants’ rights could be endangered because of the increase in time that is required for the preparation of a defense against the charges brought by the state but also against the submission of the Private Accessory Prosecutor. See Christoph Safferling, The Role of the Victim in the Criminal Process – A Paradigm Shift in National German and International Law, 11 Int'l Crim. L. Rev. 187, 193 (2011). Yet, the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) seems to find no risks for the defendant's fair trial guarantees inherent in Private Accessory Prosecution. See Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfG - Federal Constitutional Court], Case No. 1 BvL 7/68, BVerfGE 26, 66, June 3, 1969.Google Scholar

30 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, §§ 395–402.Google Scholar

31 Id. § 397 (1).Google Scholar

32 Id. §§ 397(1), 244 (3)–(6).Google Scholar

33 Id. §§ 397(1), 24, 31.Google Scholar

34 Id. §§ 397(1), 240(2).Google Scholar

35 Id. §§ 397(1), 242, 238(2).Google Scholar

36 Id. §§ 397(1), 257, 258.Google Scholar

37 For an overview of the Nebenklage, see generally Kury & Kilchling, supra note 28, at 29.Google Scholar

38 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, § 395(1) (detailing criminal acts that allow participation as a Private Accessory Prosecutor, including sexual offences, murder, manslaughter, and grievous bodily harm).Google Scholar

39 Anders, Ralf Peter, Straftheoretische Anmerkungen zur Verletztenorientierung im Strafverfahren, 124 Zeitschrift fuer die Gesamte Strafrechtswissenschaft 374, 381, 392 (2012).Google Scholar

40 Id. at 381.Google Scholar

41 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, § 395(3).Google Scholar

42 On the argument that the discretion of the court may lead to a different treatment of similar cases see Guelsen Celebi, Kritische Würdigung des Opferrechtsreformgesetzes, in Zeitschrift fuer Rechtspolitik 110, 111 (2009).Google Scholar

43 Wemmers, supra note 9, at 125.Google Scholar

44 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, §§ 403–406c.Google Scholar

45 Bundesgerichtshof [BGH – Federal Court of Justice], Case No. 2 StR 68/55, NJW 1956, 1767, Sept. 2, 1956; see generally Eberhard Siegismund, Ancillary (Adhesion) Proceedings in Germany as Shaped by the First Victim Protection Law: An Attempt to Take Stock, in Resource Material Series No.56 UNAFEI for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders 102, 106 (Hiroshi Litsuka & Rebecca Findlay Debek eds., 2000); Wemmers, supra note 9, at 126; Marion E.I. Brienen and Ernestine H. Hoegen, Compensation Across Europe: A Quest for Best Pratice, 7 Int'l Rev. of Victimology 281 (2000).Google Scholar

46 See Wemmers, supra note 9.Google Scholar

47 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, § 69(1). Victims in Germany without a special role have certain rights bestowed upon them, such as: the right to receive information on particular events (§406d, 406h StPO), the right to inspect court files under certain circumstances (§ 406e StPO) and the right to be legally represented either as a witness when testifying (§ 406f StPO) or as a victim eligible to participate as a Private Accessory Prosecutor but refusing to do so (§ 406g StPO). However, this paper focuses exclusively on the right to present views and concerns as a victim at trial and does not explore other victim related rights in Germany. This has been done by others elsewhere. See Hans Joachim Schneider, Die Gegenwärtige Situation der Verbrechensopfer in Deutschland: Eine Wissenschaftliche Bilanz, 57 Juristen Zeitung 231 (2002); see also Joachim Hermann, Die Entwicklung des Opferschutzes im Deutschen Strafrecht und Strafprozessrecht- eine Unendliche Geschichte, 3 Zeitschrift für Internationale Strafrechtsdogmatik 236 (2010).Google Scholar

48 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, § 69(1).Google Scholar

49 Baril, et al., supra note 24, cited in Wemmers, supra note 9, at 124.Google Scholar

50 Fisher, Howard D., The German Legal System and Legal Language: A General Survey Together with Notes and German Vocabulary 174 (2009).Google Scholar

51 See supra part B.Google Scholar

52 Hanloser, supra note 10, at 207–09.Google Scholar

53 See generally Tyrone Kirchengast, Victim Impact Statements and the Previtera Rule: Delimiting the Voice and Representation of Family Victims in New South Wales Homicide Cases, 24 U. of Tasmania L. Rev. 114 (2005).Google Scholar

54 See Victim Impact Statement, Dep't of the Attorney-Gen. & Justice, Gov't of S. Austl., (last visited August 30, 2013).Google Scholar

55 Garkawe, supra note 12, at 95; Ian Edwards, The Evidential Quality of Victim Personal Statements and Family Impact Statements, 13 The Int'l J. of Evidence & Proof 293, 297 (2009).Google Scholar

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58 Strafgesetzbuch [StGB] [Penal Code], Nov. 13, 1998, § 46(2).Google Scholar

59 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, § 244(3); Anders, supra note 39, at 390.Google Scholar

60 Anders, supra note 39, at 391. When pointing out structural change in German criminal procedure, Anders refers to the introduction of statutory law in regards to plea-bargaining that had been unregulated prior to 2009.Google Scholar

61 For detailed explanations on the right against self-incrimination, see Michael Bohlander, Basic Concepts of German Criminal Procedure - An Introduction, 1 Durham L. Rev. Online 1, 2 (2011).Google Scholar

62 Hansoler, supra note 10, at 223–24.Google Scholar

64 Generally agreeing that the risks of introducing a VIS before a court reaches a verdict are higher than at the sentencing stage. See Hoyle, supra note 56, at 259.Google Scholar

65 Hansoler, supra note 10, at 225.Google Scholar

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67 See, e.g., explanations in Bryan Myers & Edith Greene, The Prejudicial Nature of Victim Impact Statements-Implications for Capital Sentening Policy, 10 Psychol. Pub. Pol'y & L. 492 (2004).Google Scholar

68 In regard to VISs and proportionality, see generally Mark Stevens, Victim Impact Statements Considered in Sentencing, 2 Berkeley J. Crim. L., para. 1 (2000).Google Scholar

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74 Findlay, et al., supra note 17, at 262; Cheung v. The Queen (2001) 209 CLR 1 (Austl.).Google Scholar

75 Langbein, John H., Mixed Court and Jury Court: Could the Continental Alternative Fill the American Need?, 6 Am. B. Found. Res. J. 195, 195 (1981); Matthias Reimann & Joachim Zekoll, Introduction to German Law 425 (2d ed. 2005). Lay judges in Germany do not undergo professional legal training. While lay judges receive some introductory training it has been noted that the training provided is not sufficient to equip lay judges for their role. See, e.g. Stefan Machura, Interaction between Lay Assessors and Professional Judges in German Mixed Courts, 72 Revue Internationale de Droit Penal 451, 473 (2001). For analysis of risks identified for VIS in the German context, see also Große Strafrechtskommission des Deutschen Richterbundes (Main Criminal Law Commission of the German Judges Association), Stärkung der Rechte des Opfers auf Gehoer im Strafverfahren (2010), available at Scholar

76 Machura, Stefan, Silent Lay Judges-Why Their Influence in the Community Falls Short of Expectations, 86 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 769, 769 (2011).Google Scholar

77 For an overview of studies on the “identified victim effect,” see Ray Paternoster & Jerome Deise, A Heavy Thumb on the Scale: The Effect of Victim Impact Evidence on Captial Decision Making, 49 Criminology & Pub. Pol'y 129, 138 (2011).Google Scholar

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79 Id. at 153. The more severe sentence referred to in this study was the death penalty.Google Scholar

80 Pemberton, Antony & Reynaers, Sandra, The Controversial Nature of Victim Participation: Therapeutic Benefits in Victim Impact Statements, in Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Victim Participation in Justice 229, 232 (Edna Erez, Michael Kilchling & Jo-Anne Wemmers eds., 2011).Google Scholar

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86 Strafprozessordnung [StPO] [Code of Criminal Procedure], Apr. 7, 1987, Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl. II], as amended, §§ 240(2), 244(3)–(5). This right is also constitutionally guaranteed. See Grundgesetz fur die Bundesrepublik Deutschland [Grundgesetz] [GG] [Basic Law], May 23, 1949, BGBI. 103(1).Google Scholar

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