European Interest

Special safeguards for children in criminal proceedings now apply across the EU

Flickr/Thomas Hawk/CC BY-NC 2.0

On June 11, the directive on special safeguards for children starts to apply. It is the last in a set of six EU directives guaranteeing procedural rights for people across the EU, completing the full set of rights.

In addition to these new rights for children, the directive guaranteeing access to legal aid started to apply on 5 May. This package of EU rules ensures that EU citizens’ fundamental rights of fair and equal treatment are respected in criminal proceedings and that they are applied in a similar way in all Member States.

“Every year, 9 million people are involved in criminal proceedings in Europe. A well-functioning rule of law must ensure that every European can depend on getting a fair and equal treatment before the law. We need to continue to defend and nourish our rule of law so as to foster unwavering faith in our justice systems and their ability to protect all our citizens and our societies,” said Frans Timmermans, First-Vice President in charge of the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“Children deserve special protection in criminal proceedings. With the new rules, we ensure that their privacy is respected or they are detained separately from adults. In addition, everyone in the EU can now be sure to have access to legal aid if they need it. While justice must be done, we must also ensure it is being done in full respect of our fundamental rights and values,” added Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Special safeguards for children

Every year in the EU, over 1 million children face criminal justice proceedings. Children are vulnerable and need special protection at all stages of the proceedings. With the new rules applying as of today, children should be assisted by a lawyer and detained separately from adults if sent to prison. Privacy must be respected and questioning should be audio-visually recorded or recorded in another appropriate manner.

The right to legal aid-If suspected or accused, people have the right to legal aid, that is, financial support for example if they do not have the resources to cover the costs of the proceedings.

The EU rules define clear criteria to grant legal aid

Decisions concerning legal aid must be taken timely and diligently, and people must be informed in writing if their application is rejected in full or in part.

These rights complement the other rights that already apply in the EU:

The right to be presumed innocent and to be present at trial-The concept of presumption of innocence exists in all EU Member States, but the EU rules ensure that this right is applied equally across the EU. The rules clarify that the burden of proof for establishing guilt is on the prosecution, rather than on the person accused to prove that they are not guilty.

The right to have a lawyer – If suspected or accused, no matter where the person is in the EU, they have the right to be advised by a lawyer. A right of access to a lawyer applies also in European Arrest Warrant proceedings, both in the Member State that executes it and in the Member State where it has been issued.

The right to information -People must be promptly informed about the criminal act they are suspected or accused of. They also must be promptly informed of their rights in criminal proceedings, either orally or in writing. They must be given access to the materials of the case.

The right to interpretation and translation – Interpretation must be provided free of charge during any questioning, including by police, all court hearings and any necessary interim hearings, as well as during essential meetings between you and your lawyer.

Member States that have not yet implemented the rules must do so as soon as possible. The European Commission will continue to work closely with Member States to ensure the rules are applied correctly for the benefit of citizens. This can be done including through workshops and expert meetings.

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