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FRA report: justice must be more children-friendly

According to a recent report from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, justice system bodies need to be more sensitive to needs of children participating in justice proceedings. The report was based on the outcomes of fieldwork research conducted in ten Member States. As part of the project, the HFHR has prepared a country report.

The FRA report, Child-friendly justice – Perspectives and experiences of professionals, is a summary of the 2012 study that was simultaneously carried out in Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom. The document presents conclusions from 570 interviews with specialists who come across children in civil or criminal proceedings in their daily work.

“As part of the research we conducted nearly 60 interviews with different professionals. Above all, we asked the interviewees about children’s right to be heard and right to information, but we also raised such points as right to privacy and security, discrimination and best interests of the child”, says Małgorzata Szuleka, research coordinator in Poland.

The report reveals that in recent years respect of the child’s right to be heard has improved, particularly in criminal justice. In civil proceedings, however, children are heard much less frequently. “We have come to similar conclusions in our country report. We can see a disparity between child hearings in criminal and civil proceedings in Poland, too”, Joanna Smętek, a lawyer with the HFHR, explains. “This is visible already at the legislative level. The relevant rules of civil procedure are very scarce”, Ms Smętek adds.

The authors of the FRA report further note that although national legislation often contains provisions on the right to information, the practice of informing children about their rights and the course of hearings and procedures varies significantly between countries. “The exercise of children’s rights to information is clearly a major challenge for the professionals. Our interviews with Polish judges have revealed that most problems are associated with informing children about their right to refuse to testify. This should be performed in a way that is not manipulative but enables a child to fully grasp the consequences of the refusal”, Ms Szuleka explains. FRA research indicates that appropriate information material, whose content is tailored to a child’s age, can improve children trust in the justice system.

The recently published FRA report points that Member States have made effort to safeguard children’s rights in proceedings, which is substantiated by descriptions of best practices observed by researchers. “However, FRA is adamant that there is still much to do to have a really child-friendly justice”, Joanna Smętek sums up.

“We hope that the new minister of justice, Borys Budka, will take the FRA report seriously”, Adam Bodnar, HFHR Deputy President, says.

The full report in English can be downloaded from this link.

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