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21 September 2016

Respect Children`s Rights in EU Justice Systems!


Foto: Respect Children`s Rights in EU Justice Systems!.


Why is child-friendly justice relevant?

The practical relevance of furthering children’s rights is self-evident if one considers for a moment the many opportunities that exist for children to encounter the justice system. Whether they are involved as part of a civil dispute between two parents over custody,  as the accused person in criminal law cases or, in some jurisdictions, where they are involved in administrative matters by seeking to claim asylum, there are countless scenarios in which children may find themselves involved in legal proceedings.

Equally, there are also countless occasions within those legal proceedings where children may be subject to manifold restrictions of their rights. Such restrictions may include, for instance, children being deprived of vital information that would allow  them to  fully exercise their rights. This could easily be the case where the information is presented to the child in a manner or language that is not readily understandable to them. All too often, children are deprived of their right to be heard and their views are not sufficiently taken into account on matters of direct concern to them, the most prominent example being custody disputes. It goes without saying that questions should be put in a language children can understand and in a way  that avoids confusion.

What has been decided in the EU to strengthen children`s rights in justice?

With a view to making the justice systems of the Member States more child-friendly right across Europe, the EU announced its Agenda for the Rights of the Child in February 2011 and listed this aim as one of its designated key priorities. In its efforts to implement this laudable goal, the EU has adopted legislation containing specific provisions for children, such as the Victims’ Directive and more recently, in 2016, the Directive on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings.

The European Commission has also committed to promoting the Council of Europe Guidelines on child-friendly justice and to taking account of these in future legal instruments. These non-binding guidelines aim to guarantee the respect and the effective implementation of all children’s rights.  Their intent isto make justice, in particular, accessible, age-appropriate, speedy, diligent, adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child including the rights to due process, to participate in and understand the proceedings, to respect for private and family life and to integrity and dignity.

How will this affect the judicial practitioners?

The Council of Europe guidelines clearly indicate the need for respect and sensitivity to be used when children are heard in judicial proceedings. They also demand more flexible rules on the giving of evidence and, moreover, that the evidence of a child should not be presumed to be untrustworthy simply by reason of the child’s age.

All this illustrates the need for a well-informed, proactive approach to the involvement of children in the judicial process. It is essential that children’s rights are promoted at an early stage. By the time their rights have been violated, irreparable harm may already have been done.

The responsibility to turn the rights of children on paper into rights in their daily lives and in all dealings with the legal system requires considerable effort on the part of legal professionals, court systems and other parties involved.

Where to go for an exchange of views and practical training?

Using an applied approach involving practical workshops as well as presentations from established European and domestic experts in this area, the Academy of European Law will organise a training seminar to be held on 14-15 November 2016 in Trier, within the framework of a project co-funded by the European Commission. The seminar will address, in particular, the general principles and basic instruments for the protection of children’s rights in justice settings at European level, the children’s right to be heard (Art. 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and best practice guidelines for interacting with children in legal situations. For further information and the seminar programme please see here.

Additional information and background material about the project “The rights of the child in practice: furthering child-friendly justice in European law” can be found here.

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