- Published: 22.09.2023.
National Day of Combating Violence against Women
Marking the National Day of Combating Violence against Women on 22 September, the Government of Croatia presented the third and so far the most extensive round of measures to combat violence against women.It is a comprehensive and high-quality package of amendments to a number of laws: Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Act, Protection against Domestic Violence Act, Courts Act and Family Act.
To this end, through the efforts of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration, a Working Group was set up to review the overall legislative framework for combating violence against women, which comprised representatives of non-governmental organisations, academia, the State Attorney’s Office and courts.
One of the main objectives of the Government and the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration is early identification of abusers, their faster prosecution and strict sanctioning.
Minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment for the crime of femicide
A new criminal offence is being introduced in the Criminal Code – aggravated murder of a woman (femicide), for which a term of imprisonment of at least 10 years to long-term imprisonment is envisaged.
Also, the penalty for the criminal offence of rape is being increased to three to eight years’ imprisonment for the basic form of the criminal offence, instead of the previous one to five years, and between five and twelve years’ imprisonment for the qualifying form of the offence, replacing the previous three to 10 years’ prison sentence.
Furthermore, a minimum distance for the protective measure of a non-molestation order, of at least 50 metres, is being introduced for the first time. This is a novelty in as many as three laws: Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Act and Protection against Domestic Violence Act.
Amendments to the Criminal Code which entered into force in January 2020 increased penalties for domestic violence and sexual offences, ranging from one to 10 years’ imprisonment, and tightened the criminal justice policy by reducing the scope for imposing alternative sentences such as community service and probation.
The July 2021 amendments extended the term of a close person to current or former intimate partners.
Safety of the victim and close persons ensured by personal data confidentiality
Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act will extend and strengthen victims’ rights. A victim will be entitled to support services from the moment of commission of the crime to as long as they feel the need. A victim will also be entitled to a confidential person of their choice from the moment they report the crime to the conclusion of criminal proceedings, as well as to appeal against the order imposing, extending or lifting precautionary measures.
In case of violation of precautionary measures, a decision on the replacement of precautionary measure by pre-trial detention along with an arrest warrant will be issued within 24 hours.
In order to strengthen the victim’s sense of security, anonymity will be ensured, i.e. the obligation to maintain the confidentiality of personal data whose disclosure could jeopardise the safety of the victim and his or her close persons.
Victims of sexual offences will be questioned by audio-visual means, and when imposing precautionary measures, judges will have to take into account the victim’s individual assessment of whether they or persons close to them are in any danger.
In addition, the grounds for arrest are extended to include a situation where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the abuser has violated a precautionary measure.
The 2019 and 2022 amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act provided a higher degree of protection to rape victims, as the jurisdiction was transferred to a higher court – county court, and the prohibition of second annulment of the second-instance judgement was introduced.
Increasing fines for all forms of violence against women
New amendments to the Protection against Domestic Violence Act will increase penalties for all forms of violence against women.
Sexual harassment will no longer exist as a misdemeanour and will be prosecuted as a criminal offence only, and for all violators of protective measures imprisonment is envisaged as the only penalty, for a period of at least 10 days.
Another novelty concerns the increase in the number of members of the Commission for Monitoring and Improving the Work of Criminal and Misdemeanour Procedure Bodies from 11 to 15 members, to include representatives of academia, Office of the Ombudswoman for Gender Equality and representatives of civil society dealing with domestic violence.
The last amendments to the Protection against Domestic Violence Act came into force on 1 January 2020. They clearly delineated violent behaviour within the family that belongs to the sphere of misdemeanour responsibility from that which constitutes a criminal offence, and the circle of persons subject to the Act was expanded.
Trainings and workshops on early recognition and sanctioning of abusers
For this purpose, the Judicial Academy has delivered 28 workshops, four trainings and two seminars under the EU project “Helpline” as well as an e-course under the HELP programme “Combating violence against women”. 736 participants from the ranks of judges, state attorneys, deputy state attorneys, probation and police officers participated in the training.
As of 1 March, family departments were established at 16 municipal courts, and an electronic register was established for all court judgements related to domestic violence and violence against women.
Specialisation of judges for domestic violence and violence against women
The proposed Courts Act introduces a specialisation of judges for the cases of violence against women and domestic violence. Judges and civil servants who will work on these cases must meet two essential conditions:
- undergo regular training
- show a strong propensity to work on such cases.
116-006 Free helpline for victims 24/7 – change starts with a call
The National Call Centre for Victims of Crime and Misdemeanours was established in 2013 in cooperation between the Victims and Witness Support Service Croatia, the Ministry of Justice and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), making Croatia the fifth European country to introduce a free and standardised helpline for victim and witness support 116-006.
Since 2020, the line is available to victims and witnesses 24/7. For more information, visit here.
Assistance through victim and witness support system
The proposed measures demonstrate the political will to combat violence against women. The aim is for the legislative amendments to be adopted by the end of this year and enter into force as early as January 2024.
Tightening penalties and granting more rights to victims in the proceedings will ensure a better quality legislative framework.
All victims and witnesses of violence can seek assistance through the Victim and Witness Support Division of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.
Victim support is also provided by departments established at county courts in Zagreb, Vukovar, Osijek, Zadar, Split, Sisak, Rijeka, Karlovac and Šibenik, and the procedure is underway for the establishment of such departments in the remaining county courts, Zagreb Municipal Criminal Court and Split Municipal Court.