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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 06 June 2014

Children in criminal proceedings: European Commission proposal to increase protection makes a decisive step forward

Today, Justice Ministers from the Member States agreed on a general approach (an informal agreement) for measures that will guarantee special safeguards for children during criminal court proceedings. The European Commission put forward a directive in November 2013 (IP/13/1157, MEMO/13/1046), aiming to establish specific protection for children, as they are particularly vulnerable during court proceedings. Today's agreement coincides with the publication, by the Commission, of a study on children's involvement in criminal judicial proceedings in all EU Member States.

"Making the justice system in Europe more child-friendly is a priority for the Commission. As the most vulnerable in society they deserve special protection. I would like to thank Ministers in the Council and especially my colleague Charalambos Athanasiou for their committed work on this file which made it possible to reach such a fast initial agreement," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "This is also about putting the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into law and action as its states that we must act in the child's best interests. That's exactly what this directive does: putting children first by guaranteeing better rights for those who are suspected or accused of a crime."

Judicial systems in Europe are still not adapted to the vulnerabilities and specific needs of children. Every year in the EU, roughly 1.086.000 children face criminal justice proceedings, representing 12% of the total European population facing criminal justice.

The Commission's proposal therefore aims to ensure that the highest possible standards are guaranteed for children:

  • Children must be assisted by a lawyer. As children might not be in a position to fully understand the consequences of their actions, they should not be allowed to waive their right to a lawyer. The mandatory assistance by a lawyer is a core element of the Commission's proposal and must be strengthened.

  • Children should be detained separately from adults. Specific protection measures should exist for children who are deprived of their liberty. It is particularly important to keep detained adults and children apart, to prevent ill-treatment and abuse.

  • Children should not have to bear the cost of certain safeguards, even if found guilty. A child should not have to reimburse the costs of certain procedures e.g. individual assessment, medical examination or audio-visual recording of interviews. A differentiated regime for reimbursement could seriously undermine a child's access to justice by preventing a child, parent or lawyer from exercising their rights.

Other key safeguards that children should benefit from include being swiftly informed of their legal rights, being assisted by parents (or other appropriate persons), and not being questioned in public hearings. Since the questioning of a child is potentially risky due to their vulnerability, the Commission proposes that interviews should be filmed only if necessary, and especially if the child is deprived of liberty. The directive proposed by the Commission also sets minimum standards for detention including access to rehabilitation measures, with an obligation to take all measures possible to avoid the deprivation of liberty whenever this is in the best interests of the child.

The Directive will not apply to Denmark (which has an opt-out) while the UK and Ireland can decide to join (they have a right to opt-in).

Next steps: Today's initial agreement in the Justice Council will pave the way for trilogue discussions between the Council of Ministers, European Parliament and Commission under the Italian Presidency of the EU. Following the European elections the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee of the European Parliament is due to be reconvened in July. The first trilogue meeting on this file is expected at the end of November this year.

Study on children's involvement in criminal judicial proceedings

Today, the Commission released a new study on children's involvement in criminal proceedings in the EU. The 2011 EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child (IP/11/156) identified a lack of reliable, comparable and official data in this area, while in April 2014 the Commission kicked off a public consultation asking how the EU can best support national child protection systems (IP/14/392).

The overview of Member States' systems is composed of an EU summary report plus country-specific reports for each EU Member State. The aim is to help share examples of best practice across Member States and build a basis for evidence-based policy in the context of child-friendly justice.

Key findings from the study include:

Age of criminal responsibility

  1. All Member States have a minimum age of criminal responsibility – the age below which a child is not considered to be capable of committing a criminal offence. In the majority of Member States, the minimum age is 14 or 15 years. Only five jurisdictions have a lower minimum age (IE – 12, NL – 12, and the UK-England & Wales and UK-Northern Ireland – 10 and UK-Scotland – 12).

  2. The majority of Member Stated has an upper age limit for juvenile justice. In most cases this is 17 years of age.

Specialist courts

  1. 6 Member States have specialised units dealing with children within prosecution services1 Nine Member States do not have specialist courts - all children (suspects/offenders, victims, witnesses) are tried in ordinary courts with the same judges who adjudicate in adult cases.

Training for professionals

  1. 12 Member States have mandatory training requirements on the rights and needs of children for judges2. 11 Member States have mandatory training for prosecutors3, and 7 Member States mandatory training for defence lawyers4.

Protection measures during interviews

  1. In nearly all Member States there are safeguards aimed at protecting children during interviews and when giving testimony (limitations to the number of interviews, use of video-recordings, etc.).

  2. Adaptations to the physical environment in which the child is interviewed are more frequent for child victims and witnesses than for child suspects. Adaptations to the physical setting in which child suspects/offenders are interviewed are in place in seven jurisdictions5.

Conditions for children in pre-trial detention

  1. There is a legal obligation to make pre-trial detention of child suspects a measure of last resort exists in 22 jurisdictions6. It is not a legal obligation in 8 jurisdictions7.

Both, the Directive and the study, are central elements of the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child. The Commission is also gathering data on the involvement of children in civil and administrative justice, for which the results are expected end 2014.

For more information

Data and statistics

EU summary report and national contextual overviews

European Commission Directive on special safeguards for children suspected or accused of a crime

Child friendly justice:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/fundamental-rights/rights-child/friendly-justice/index_en.htm

Press pack: procedural rights:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/criminal/news/131127_en.htm

Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner: http://ec.europa.eu/reding

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice

Contacts :

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)

Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)

For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail

Annex

Table 6.3 Countries with comprehensive safeguards for child suspects/offenders in 18 areas of child-friendly justice

Areas of child-friendly justice

Countries with comprehensive safeguards

Rationale

Minimum age of criminal responsibility

BE, LU, PL

The MACR is 18

Specialist institutions

BE, CZ, EL, FR, IE, IT, NL, PT, SI

Specialist courts and specialist police units have been set up

Training of professionals

BE, CZ, EE, FR, IT

Mandatory training for judges, police, prosecutors and lawyers

Multidisciplinary approach

BE, NL, SE, UK-E&W

Formal institutions exist to ensure consistent implementation of multidis­ciplinary approach across cases

Protection from discrimination

HU, SI, SK

Age discrimination prohibited in law and age discrimination claims can be pursued in a court

Legal remedies for violation of rights

AT, BE, BG, DK, ES, FI, HR, LT, LV, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SI

Child suspects can claim compensation if acquitted in a court of first instance

Information and advice

BE, CZ, EE, FI, IE, LU, PT, UK-E&W, UK-NI

Information about rights is provided by law at first contact and in child friendly manner

Protection during contact with police

BE, CZ, DK, EL, ES, HR, IE

Police have to adhere to special rules when they stop, search or detain a child

Conditions in pre-trial detention

CZ, DK, RO, SI

Max duration of police custody is 6 hours (CZ) and Max duration of post-charge pre-trial detention is less than 3 months (DK, RO, SI)

Legal counsel and representation

BE, DK, EE, LT, LU, MT

Right to legal counsel and free legal aid, without conditions, at all stages of proceedings

Right to be heard

AT, CZ, EE, LV, PT

Right to be heard goes beyond basic right to make representations to also include right to consult files and inter­rogate witnesses/experts

Protection during interviews

CY, IE, LV, NL, PL, SE, UK-S

Adaptations to the physical environ­ment and manner in which child suspects are interviewed

Right to privacy

BE, DE, IT, LU, MT, PT, SI

Both state regulation of the media and media self-regulatory measures protect the right to privacy of child suspects/offenders

Avoiding undue delay

DK, FI, HU, PL, RO, SE, UK-S

Maximum timeframe established for cases involving child suspects to get to trial

Alternatives to judicial proceedings

DK, EE, IE, UK-E&W, UK-NI and UK-S

Alternatives to judicial proceedings exist that are specifically designed with children in mind

Measures to ensure constructive and individualised sanctions

DK, EL, FI, HR, PL, RO

Educational, protective or therapeutic measures favoured over punishment of child offenders

Guidance and support after criminal judicial proceedings

FI

Court decisions must be communi­cated in child-friendly language and dedicated therapeutic services exist

Restricting access to criminal records

BE, CY, DK, EE, IT, PL, RO

Procedure exists to delete or prevent disclosure of criminal records when child turns 18

Table A4.16 Alternatives to judicial proceedings for children in conflict with the law

Country

Existence of alternatives to judicial proceedings prescribed by law CRIM142

Nature of alternatives to judicial proceedings CRIM142

Statutory provision to obtain free and voluntary consent to the diversion from the child or from the parent if child is below a certain age CRIM143

AT

Yes

Instructions to pay a fine or perform community work; mediation

Yes

BE

Yes

Mediation/ restorative justice

Yes

BG

Yes

Special corrective measures

No*

CY

No

-

-

CZ

Yes

Mediation

Yes

DE

Yes

Supervisory measures

Yes

DK

Yes

Juvenile contract1

Yes

EE

Yes

Juvenile committee;2 conciliation

Yes

EL

Yes

Mediation/ restorative justice

No

ES

Yes

Mediation/ educational measures

No*

FI

Yes

Conciliation

Yes

FR

Yes

Close case under conditions; propose criminal settlement3

Yes

HR

Yes

Non-prosecution (possibly subject to conditions)

No*

HU

Yes

Mediation; active repentance

No*

IE

Yes

Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme4

No*

IT

No

-

-

LT

Yes

Reconciliation (guided by Judge)

No

LU

Yes

Mediation

No*

LV

Yes

Correctional/educational measures; conciliation

Yes

MT

Yes

Victim offender mediation/ restorative justice

No*

NL

Yes

Conditional dismissal and participation in community service / educational project (HALT settlement / STOP-

disposal) or fine

No*

PL

Yes

Mediation

Yes

PT

Yes

Behavioural contract; mediation

Yes

RO

No*

-

No

SE

No

-

-

SI

Yes

Mediation, deferring or dispensing with the prosecution

No

SK

Yes

Reconciliation/ agreement on guilt and punishment

Yes

UK-E&W

Yes

Reprimand; acceptable behaviour contracts

Yes

UK-NI

Yes

Informed warning or restorative caution; acceptable behaviour contract

Yes

UK-S

Yes

Warnings

No

Endnote to Table A4.16

1 In DK, a juvenile contract is an agreement where the child offender obligates him or herself to participate in a number of activities and the prosecution stops investigating the case.

2 In EE, the prosecutor can dispense with prosecution and send a case to a Juvenile Committee. These Committees deal with children below MACR and, upon the prosecutors request, also children above MACR.

3 In FR, the prosecutor may close the case under certain conditions e.g. undergoing training, repairing damage caused, etc. or propose a criminal settlement e.g. paying a fine, undertaking unpaid work.

4 In IE, the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme consists of giving the child a caution and, where appropriate, placing him or her under the supervision of a juvenile liaison officer and convening a conference.

No* = the protection does not appear to exist according to the information reviewed during the course of this study.

- = not applicable.

Table A4.7 Right to legal representation and legal aid for child suspects

Country

Right to legal representation for suspected child CRIM175

Stages of proceedings where right to legal representation is protected CRIM175

Existence of safeguard mechanism to ensure mandatory defence CRIM176

Right of suspected child to legal aid CRIM178

Type of legal aid
(free or conditional)

AT

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

BE

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Free

BG

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test1

CY

Yes

Suspects > 15: all stages

Suspects < 15: during court sessions

No

Yes

Conditional means-test

CZ

Yes for suspects > 15

No for suspects < 15

Suspects > 15:

all stages

In part2

Yes

Conditional means-test

DE

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional merit-based

DK

Yes

All stages

No*

Yes

Free

EE

Yes

All stages

No*

Yes

Free

EL

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

ES

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Different rules in each

autonomous community

FI

Yes

During the investigation

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

FR

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

-

HU

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional3

IE

Yes

All stages

In part

means-test

Yes

Conditional4

IT

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

LT

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Free

LU

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Free

LV

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

MT

Yes

All stages

No*

Yes

Free

NL

Yes

Prior to interrogation

In part5

No*

Conditional6

PL

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

-

PT

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

RO

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

-

SE

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

and merit-based

SI

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional7

SK

Yes

All stages

Yes

Yes

Conditional means-test

UK-E&W

Yes

All stages

No

Yes

Conditional means-test

UK-NI

No

-

No

Yes

Conditional means-test

UK-S

Yes

Prior to questioning by
police and before court
appearance

No*

Yes

-

Endnote to Table A4.7

1 Means-tested on the basis of income of the child rather than that of the parents.

2 Only for children above 15 years of age.

3 No information on nature of the conditions.

4 No information on nature of the conditions.

5 Children under the age of 16 cannot waive the right to consult their lawyer before interview while those aged 16 and 17 may do, depending on the severity of the case and personal circumstances.

6 No information on nature of the conditions.

7 No information on nature of the conditions.

No* = the protection does not appear to exist according to the information reviewed during the course of this study.

Table A4.3 Provision of information and advice on rights and procedures to child witnesses

Country

Statutory provision on right to information about rights and procedures

CRIM066

Information is provided in a child friendly format

Information is provided at first contact

CRIM066

AT

Yes

Yes

Yes

BE

No

No1

Yes

BG

Yes

No

No

CY

No

Yes

No

CZ

No2

No

Yes

DE

Yes

Yes

No*

DK

No

No

No

EE

Yes

Yes

Yes

EL

Yes

No

No

ES

Yes

No

No*

FI

Yes

No*

Yes

FR

Yes

No

Yes

HR

Yes

No

Yes

HU

Yes

Yes

Yes

IE

No

No

No*

IT

No

No

No

LT

No

No*

No

LU

No

No

No

LV

Yes

No

No

MT

Yes

No

No

NL

No

No

No

PL

Yes

No

In part3

PT

Yes

No

No

RO

Yes

Yes

Yes

SE

No

No

No

SI

Yes

In part4

Yes

SK

Yes

Yes

Yes

UK-E&W

Yes

Yes

Yes

UK-NI

Yes

Yes

Yes

UK-S

No

No

Yes

Endnote to Table A4.3

1 In BE, information is not provided in a child-friendly format at federal level.

2 In CY, the obligation to inform child witnesses of their rights and procedures is only set out in an internal police directive.

3 In PL, the information must be provided to child witnesses only prior to being interviewed.

4 In SI, the courts have issued child-friendly information booklets.

1 :

BE, CZ, EE, IT, LU, SK

2 :

AT, BE, BG, CZ, DE, EE, EL, ES, FR, HU, IE, IT, LU, NL, PT, SI, UKE&W, UKS

3 :

BE, CZ, EE, ES, FR, HR, HU, IT, LV, PT, UK-E&W

4 :

BE, CZ, EE, FR, IT, LV, SI

5 :

CY, IE, LV, NL, PL, SE and UK-S

6 :

AT, BE, BG, CZ, DE, DK, EL, FR, IE, IT, HR, LU, LT, PL, PT, RO, SE, SI, SK, UK-E&W, UK-NI and UK-S

7 :

CY, EE, ES, FI, HU, LV, MT and NL


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