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Fair Trials highlights essential role of lawyers in implementing new Children’s Directive

admin - June 18, 2018 - EU children's directive, child rights, Children, access to a lawyer

It is well-established that children in conflict with the law have specific needs in order to effectively access justice. In June 2018, experts from across the globe gathered in Paris for the World Congress on Justice for Children to discuss how to strengthen justice systems for children. The conference specifically focused on the issues of child involvement in violent extremism, the necessity for new and improved approaches to reduce juvenile offending and the enhancement of protection mechanisms for children in conflict with the law.

Bruno Min, Legal and Policy Officer at Fair Trials, attended the conference and spoke at the workshop on ‘the role of the lawyer for children in conflict with the law’. His talk specifically focused on the role of lawyers in effectively implementing the new EU Directive on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings, which was passed in 2016. The Directive represents an historic step forward for children’s rights, and contains key minimum standards for the treatment of children in criminal justice systems. Fair Trials worked with the Children’s Rights Alliance for England to inform the adoption of the directive, and since its adoption, Fair Trials has conducted trainings for lawyers on the implementation of the Directive and produced a toolkit for practitioners.

At the Congress, Fair Trials highlighted that although the Directive is a huge step forward for a rights-based approach to juvenile justice, it does not stand alone. The role of lawyers is essential to implementing the Directive and ensuring that states are able to keep up with newly established international and regional standards on children’s rights.

Bruno Min explained that because the Directive is open to interpretation, lawyers have to be aware of existing international and regional human rights standards to make sure that it is interpreted in line with those standards at the domestic level. The Directive itself recognises the role of lawyers and contains a provision which compels EU member states to make sure that children are assisted by lawyers as soon as criminal proceedings begin.

On a practical level, all parties involved in juvenile justice (including lawyers) need to have the skills and knowledge that enables children in conflict with the law to exercise their rights. This means that they need to have substantial knowledge on the special protections children are entitled to, and that practitioners should have a broader consideration of how child suspects and defendants and impacted by being in contact with criminal justice systems. Practitioners also need to be equipped with the skills, particularly communication skills, to ensure that the child’s views can be heard and that the child’s best interests are respected throughout the criminal process.

As well as the European perspective, the discussion covered experiences from NGOs, academics, prosecutors, judiciary members and defence attorneys from the USA, Canada, Africa and the Caucasus. The discussion highlighted the different ways in which lawyers play a critical role in the protection of the rights of children in conflict with the law globally.

By June 2019, EU Member States are required to have transposed the EU Children’s Directive into national law. If you’re a practitioner, see our implementation toolkit on the Directive.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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