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Netherlands: Legal Assistance for Domestic Violence Victims

(Mar. 15, 2011) According to a press release issued by the Netherlands Ministry of Security and Justice [MSJ] on March 1, 2011, as of that date services to victims of domestic violence will be expanded by Victims Support Netherlands [VSN] which will offer free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence whose assailants are under a temporary restraining order. Regular government-funded services do not provide for this type of assistance. (Press Release, MSJ, Victims of Domestic Violence Also Entitled to Legal Assistance (Mar. 1, 2011).)

VSN is a national organization with 75 offices throughout the Netherlands that provides support and legal advice to victims of various kinds. It is funded by the central government (especially by the MSJ) and by municipalities. (Victim Support or Slachtofferhulp, Nederland & Over ons [About Us], Slachtofferhulp Nederland website (both last visited Mar. 1, 2011).) VSN is also a member organization of Victim Support Europe. (Member Organisations, Victim Support Europe (last visited Mar. 11, 2011).)

Offenders upon whom a temporary restraining order has been imposed by a mayor receive legal assistance if they wish to take action against the mayor by submitting the case to the court in interlocutory proceedings. (Press Release, supra.) Under the Municipalities Act (Gemeentewet) (of Feb. 14, 1992, as amended), the mayor has the power to deal with anti-social behavior without the intervention of a judge. (Wim Huisman & Monique Koemans, Administrative Measures in Crime Control, 1:5 ERASMUS LAW REVIEW 130 (2008); Art. 172a, Gemeentewet (as amended), OVERHEID.NL [Dutch online legal database] (last visited Mar. 14, 2011).) Heretofore no legal aid had been provided to the victims, however, who, while not parties to the proceedings, may still require such aid. To remedy this situation, Minister of Security and Justice I.W. Opstelten requested that VSN make legal assistance available to the victims. In complying with the request, VSN made a working arrangement with the Support Offices for Domestic Violence, which implement municipal policies on domestic violence. (Press Release, supra.)

The legal assistance VSN offers includes “providing information about court proceedings and assisting the victim in court, if necessary, or putting the victim's opinion of the restraining order into writing”; according to the MSJ, provision of such assistance improves victims' legal standing. (Id.; see also Wendy Zeldin, Netherlands: Improvement of Victims' Position in Criminal Procedure, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Feb. 11, 2011); Press Release, Ministry of Security and Justice, Teeven: National Network of Victim Support Desks (Nov. 18, 2010).)