New report on child-friendly justice

Date: 7th March 2017
Category: General principles

'Child-friendly justice - perspectives and experiences of children involved in judicial proceedings as victims, witnesses or parties in nine EU Member States' is based on the experiences of over 350 children across the EU.

Around 2.5 million children participate in judicial proceedings across the European Union (EU) every year, affected by parental divorce or as victims of, or witnesses to, crime. Although their effective participation in such proceedings is vital for improving the operation of justice, the treatment of children in justice systems remains a concern. FRA investigated to what extent children's rights to be heard, to be informed, to be protected, and to non-discrimination are fulfilled in practice.
The report focuses on children who have been victims, witnesses or parties in judicial proceedings. Their responses highlight how important the behaviour of professionals towards them is to make them feel safe and respected. The findings underline the need for clear and practical training for all professionals in contact with children involved in judicial proceedings - a point already emphasised in the first report by professionals themselves. In addition, the responses underscore the value of child-friendly hearing locations and age-appropriate information, as well as the importance of providing consistent support throughout proceedings and properly implemented procedural safeguards.

FRA commends EU Member States to listen to the voices of children presented in this report and intensify their efforts to make justice truly child-friendly.

Specifically, the research indicates that:

  • Participating in judicial proceedings is likely to be stressful for everyone, and even more so for chil¬dren. Justice systems are not designed to specifi¬cally 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 profes¬sionals' overall behaviour, empathy and understand¬ing 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. There¬fore, it is difficult for them to be heard in a meaning¬ful 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 pro-fessional qualifications.
  • Unfortunately, children do not always feel sufficiently protected. They repeatedly complain about unfriendly and disrespectful behaviour by profes¬sionals, 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 focuses on the perspectives of children, outlining their views on factors that impede their full participation and on efforts that can help overcome such barriers.