Universiteit Leiden

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Criminal Justice Public Lecture: Maarten Kunst on victim rights

On 1 June 2022, Maarten Kunst, Professor of Criminology at Leiden Law School, gave a lecture on his research into the effects of the right to be heard on both the defendant and the victim. Victims have certain rights in the Dutch criminal process, including the right to be heard in criminal proceedings. Kunst explained the general goals of this right.

For example, the right to be heard would promote the emotional recovery of victims, be informative for the court, and increase the visibility of victims, Kunst explained. In addition, there is also the hope that the right to be heard in criminal proceedings will contribute to general prevention and induce remorse on the part of the offender.

However, despite these goals, the right to be heard has been widely criticised. Criminal lawyers argue that the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, and the principle of equality, come under pressure as a result of the right to be heard. On the other hand, victimologists argue that the right to speak has no therapeutic effect, but may even have an anti-therapeutic effect. In his research, Maarten Kunst adds to this criticism by speculating that the right to be heard may contribute to (worsening) moral injury to the accused.

In his lecture, Kunst elaborated on the term ‘moral injuries’. These occur when a person violates his or her own morality limits through his or her own actions or those of others. The term is quite new, but the idea behind it has been around for much longer. When soldiers from the United States returned from the Vietnam War, many of them suffered from ‘perpetration-induced traumatic stress’, which stemmed from the moral injuries they had suffered in Vietnam.

In his research, Kunst looked at a possible link between the right to be heard and the defendant's (worsening) moral injuries and the further impact of the right to be heard on the entire criminal process. Little research has been done on these issues, so there are no clear-cut answers. From the limited research that is available, it can be said that the right to be heard has little effect on the defendant's sense of remorse.

Kunst concluded that it is thus unclear whether victim rights, and in particular the right to be heard, achieve the desired effects. Little is known about this and therefore all the more important to investigate.

Report: Catherine Vroon

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