Due to the fact that 2.5 million children take part in judicial proceedings in the EU every year and these proceedings can be stressful, it is of essential importance that the procedures are child-friendly. This report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) presents research that examined the extent to which children’s rights to be heard, informed, protected and safe are followed in practice across nine EU member states.
The findings of the report are based on 392 interviews with children who have experienced judicial proceedings either as victims, witnesses or parties. As such, children as defendants are not covered by the report. The report provides both qualitative and quantitative findings, and there are five main chapters. These focus on the right to be heard; the right to information; the right to protection and privacy; the right to non-discrimination and the principle of the best interests of the child. The main findings are the following:
“• Participating in judicial proceedings is likely to be stressful for everyone, and even more so for children. Justice systems are not designed to specifically address the needs of children. However, several measures can be taken to make children feel safe and as comfortable as possible, making possible their effective participation.
• The children interviewed expressed their wish to be heard when participating in judicial proceedings, but they need to feel safe and comfortable. Therefore, everybody involved should contribute to creating appropriate, safe and child-friendly conditions and facilitating their participation.
• Throughout judicial proceedings, the involved professionals’ overall behaviour, empathy and understanding is key for children to feel comfortable and safe; when they feel respected and trust the professionals involved in the hearings, children are able to express their views freely and participate effectively.
• Most children do not think they are given sufficient and appropriate information to enable them to understand their rights and the procedures. Therefore, it is difficult for them to be heard in a meaningful way and to participate effectively in proceedings.
• Professionals who are assessed positively by children are more likely to choose settings in which children feel comfortable and safe, and to inform them in a child-friendly way, thus reducing children’s anxiety.
• Children always greatly appreciate the support they receive, particularly when it is provided continuously throughout proceedings to establish a relationship of trust. Most of them assess the support positively regardless of the involved professional’s specific professional qualifications.
• Unfortunately, children do not always feel sufficiently protected. They repeatedly complain about unfriendly and disrespectful behaviour by professionals, such as defence lawyers, judges or police officers. A high proportion also claim that they encountered the accused or their families – if not during the hearings themselves, then while waiting for the hearings.”
The report therefore demonstrates that although child-friendly justice was prioritised by the European Commission in the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, it is evident that more needs to be done to protect and improve the treatment of children involved in the justice system across the EU. Based on the findings, the FRA provides 33 concrete opinions that should be taken into consideration by EU member states to ensure that children are treated appropriately and that their rights are respected when they take part in judicial proceedings.
To read the checklist for professionals that complements the report, please click here.
Note: This is the second report by the FRA that focuses on child-friendly justice. The first report was based on research into the perspectives of professionals working in this area (e.g. judges, police officers, lawyers, prosecutors, social workers) and it is available on ChildHub at the following link: https://childhub.org/en/child-protection-online-library/child-friendly-justice