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MEPs strengthen rights of children in criminal proceedings

Voting in the European ParliamentVoting in the European Parliament
Voting in the European Parliament

MEPs backed new rules on Wednesday to ensure that children who are suspected or accused of a crime get a fair trial. The directive, informally agreed with the Council last December, recognises the right of anyone under 18 to be assisted by a lawyer and to be accompanied by the holder of parental responsibility (or another appropriate adult) through most of the proceedings.

“The text presents a catalogue of rights and guarantees as a common European model of fair trials for minors in which we strike a balance between the need to ascertain responsibility for crime and the need to take due account of minors’ vulnerability and specific needs”, said Caterina Chinnici (S&D, IT), who steered the legislation through Parliament. The new directive was approved by 613 votes to 30, with 56 abstentions.

The draft directive aims to ensure that children can understand and follow court proceedings and are prevented from re-offending. The child’s best interest must always be the primary consideration, says the text. The directive also includes the right to an individual assessment by qualified personnel and to a medical examination if the child is deprived of liberty.

Right to legal help in exercising the right of defence

MEPs inserted a provision to ensure that children always have the right of access to a lawyer. Exceptions to this right may be made only if it deemed not to be proportionate in the light of the circumstances of the case, or in exceptional cases, at the pre-trial stage, given the child’s best interest..

Separate detention from adults and other fair trial safeguards

The directive would require EU member states to ensure that deprivation of liberty, and in particular detention, is imposed on children only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. Children who are detained should be held separately from adults, unless it is considered to be in the child's best interests not to do so.

The directive also includes other safeguards, such as:

1.the right for children to be promptly informed about their rights and about general aspects of the conduct of the proceedings,

2.information to be provided to the holder of parental responsibility or another appropriate adult, nominated by the child and accepted as such by the competent authority,

3.the right to be accompanied by that person during court hearings and at other stages of the proceedings such as police questioning,

4.the right to protection of privacy during criminal proceedings, including the option of having court hearings involving children held in the absence of the public, and

5.specific training for justices, prosecutors and other professionals who deal with criminal proceedings involving children.

Next steps

The directive now needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers. Once published in the EU Official Journal, member states will have three years in which to transpose it into their national laws.

Denmark, the UK and Ireland have opted out of this directive and will not be bound by it.

Adopted text (09.03.2016)
Video recording of debate (08.03.2016)
Procedure File
EPRS: Child friendly justice in the EU