I have been wanting to write this article for some time, but it involves quite a bit of research. Luckily this has taken a giant step forward with the input of the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV) who have recently developed “INFOVICTIMS” covering this and the justice system. The president of APAV has kindly given permission to use this material concerning the reporting of crime so that people are more aware of the process.
What is a crime?
We understand crime to be a voluntary, or sometimes a negligent, behaviour that violates either the Penal Code or specific laws. The aim of these laws is to protect and safeguard society’s fundamental legal interests, such as life, freedom, physical and moral integrity, sexual self-determination and property.
Why should I report a crime?
Reporting a crime is always the first step in criminal proceedings. Only after the complaint is made can authorities know that the crime occurred and start the investigation.
If you are the victim or a witness to a crime, it is very important that you report it to the authorities. If you do so, then it is more likely that the person who committed the crime is caught, made responsible and prevented from doing the same again, either to you or to others.
It might be necessary to report the crime to claim your rights to insurance or compensation. Reporting the crime is also important for compiling crime statistics, and for crime prevention actions.
It is mandatory for the police authorities to report any crime they become aware of and for their staff as well, either in the exercise of, or because of their duties. Reporting a crime is mandatory for anyone becoming aware of situations that put at risk the life, the physical or psychological integrity or the freedom of a child or young person aged under 18.
Types of crime
In so far as the types of crime and the reporting process are involved, there are three classifications.
Public crimes – Examples of public crimes are homicide, abduction, sexual abuse of children, domestic violence and theft. It is sufficient that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) becomes aware of the crime in any way for criminal proceedings to start. That is, the process is initiated regardless of the victim’s will and the crime can be reported by anyone.
Semi-public crimes – are, for example, rape, simple theft and some offences to one’s physical integrity. Criminal proceedings for these crimes only start after the victim of the crime has reported it. That is, the public prosecutor can start criminal proceedings if the victim is willing and makes a complaint within six months after the crime takes place.
Private crimes – are, for example, defamation, libel or slander. Criminal proceedings for private crimes and for semi-public crimes start in the same way: the Public Prosecution Service can only open a process if the victim files a complaint. Then, after the complaint is made, the victim has 10 days to request his/her role as assistant and the intervention of a lawyer.
The investigation phase comes after. If this phase produces enough evidence to take the defendant to trial the victim can accuse the defendant of having committed the crime. If the victim does not proceed with the accusation, the case will be dismissed.
Making a crime complaint
You can present your complaint or report to the PPS, Judicial Police (PJ), the Public Security Police (PSP) or the National Republican Guard (GNR). Any of these authorities has the duty to receive all complaints and reports presented to them, even if the crime hasn’t been committed in their area or, in the case of the police forces, the investigation is not under their responsibility.
You can present a complaint or report even if you don’t know who committed the crime. It is for the authorities to investigate and determine the perpetrator’s identity.
In public crimes, anyone who knows of the crime can report it and this is enough for the Public Prosecutor to start criminal proceedings, even against the wishes of the victim. If you do not wish to reveal your identity, then you can report it anonymously. However, it is usually preferable that you identify yourself so that later on you can be requested to collaborate in the investigation.
In either semi-public or private crimes, it has to be the victim presenting the complaint within six months of the crime taking place. Otherwise, the Public Prosecutor will not be able to start criminal proceedings. If the victim cannot do it, because he/she is aged under 16, has died or is unwell, or any other reason, then a close relative such as the husband or wife, father or son, can present the complaint.
The complaint can be withdrawn by the victim (but not the reporting of a crime). That is, if for any reason the victim wishes to stop the proceedings, he/she can withdraw the complaint, as long as the defendant is not against it. This request needs to be submitted to the authority responsible for the proceedings at that time or the Public Prosecutor during the investigation phase and pre-trial phase or the judge during the trial.
Reporting a crime or making a complaint is free of charge (except requesting a certificate for insurance claims which may be charged), does not require formalities and can be done verbally or in writing. You should include as many details as possible to help the investigation.
When the victim reports a crime, he/she has the right to a certificate showing that the complaint was registered, that is, a document confirming that the complaint was made, the type of crime with date, place and what was the harm caused.
APAV is a private charitable organisation, recognised by law with statutory objective to inform, protect and support citizens who have been victims of crime.
To learn more about their work please visit their website in English: http://apav.pt/apav_v2/index.php/en/ and click on “INFOVICTIMS”.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação Safe Communities Algarve, the first association of its type in Portugal. 913 045 093