Every year there are hundreds of thousands of children in the European Union who are involved in judicial proceedings,
for example in divorce and custody cases, or being a victim or a witness of an act of violence or theft. The protection of the children involved needs special attention, awareness of children’s rights and the ability to involve children in the various processes.
To ensure the protection of their rights in judicial processes, the Council of Europe has made guidelines for specialists working with these children. The guidelines are based on children’s rights and instruct specialists how to inform and protect them in various stages, taking into account children’s maturity, abilities, and the circumstances of the case. The study reveals how child-friendly is justice in the EU countries, including Estonia, and what should be changed to ensure children’s best interests.
According to the specialists, the children’s participation in justice and their right to be heard is very important.
Children are often important source of information in criminal processes, and they need to have a word as a witnesses as equally as adults. It is necessary to create conditions in which children could give quality information. Being involved in judicial proceedings can be traumatic for children. More child-friendly are pre-trial proceedings and civil cases in which the children were interrogated in neutral venues.
Trials and courts in Estonia are not considered child-friendly, and post-trial support and counselling is rare.
According to the research, post-trial procedures, such as counselling and support for children after the trial, are problematic. Regular post-trial counselling were rarely mentioned in the interviews, despite the fact that most of the interviewees had heard that children experience stress when being involved in trials.
Specialists working with children need more precise guidelines and regulations.
Practices and their quality vary from region to region and depend on the skills and personalities of the specialists.. At least two thirds of the specialists pointed out that there are no specific child interrogation procedures and rules in Estonia. They also feel the need for special thematic or interdisciplinary training that would teach how to take into account the age and development stage of the child, and legal aspects.