Between April 28-29, 2021, FORUM, in partnership with , the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ, Belgium), and with the support of the Judicial Academy, organized online seminars as part of the European project “Procedural Rights for All Children in Justice” (PRACTICE) . Following the seminars organized in February for lawyers and social workers, the seminars brought together around 50 participants, including judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and other professionals working in the field of juvenile justice in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and focused on the institution of the individual assessment of children suspected or accused of breaching the law. Individual assessment has been enshrined as a child’s right in European legislation (Directive 2016/800) since 2016. The project aims to seek questions and foster discussion on the relevant principles and rules that need to be taken into account so that individual assessments of children are done in line with the protection of their rights.
The seminar highlighted that the behavior of a child often reflects how they were treated by adults and others, and that the line between victim and perpetrator may not be as sharp. The perpetrator can often be the victim of structural inequalities and systemic mistakes, which should be examined critically. A child’s contact with the criminal justice system should be seen as an opportunity to provide the child with more appropriate support rather than as a means of punishment. During the presentations, it was also stated that the first message we should send to the child is that we care about them (“we care about you”) and not to shift to more sensitive and intrusive interventions immediately. The relationship to the prohibition of violence and the need for a critical approach to imposing (coercive) measures on a child was also raised in the discussion. As one of the most important steps, a partnership approach to the child in the form of active listening and respect for their opinions was stressed. One of the points discussed was also the special vulnerability of adolescents.
The lecturers and participants also addressed several practical issues, such as how to work with the information in a particular case, and how to maintain the objectivity of the information and conclusions included in the report to the court. It was emphasized that the source of the information should always be verified to avoid duplication of information or unjustified emphasis on certain information included in the report. The right of the child to access the report on individual assessment and the information contained therein and to have the opportunity to comment on it, mainly before the court hearing, was identified as crucial. In this regard, the support of the child’s legal representative plays an important role. Another important aspect highlighted in the discussion was the relevance of the collected information, and whether information that has nothing to do with the present case has been be collected (e.g. information from the child’s and their family’s deeper past). This information can be stigmatizing and violate the child’s right to privacy.
The second part of the seminar was devoted to the perspective of restorative justice with an emphasis on the question of how this perspective can help in understanding individual assessment as a child’s right. The importance of building a positive relationship with the child, as well as the child’s participation in seeking redress for the harm caused, was discussed (“The head where the problem is, also has the solution.”). Research indicates that the active involvement of the child in resolving their conduct in conflict with the law gives the child a feeling of control and respect. The child is then more likely to see the process as fair and more likely to follow the decision made in the proceedings. At the same time, participation contributes to better decision-making , as children themselves can contribute with new and creative solutions. In conclusion, the core is to do things with children, rather than to them or for them.
During the seminar, participants shared their experiences, the cases they experienced, and the problems they encountered in their practice. One of the more prevalent issues discussed was the non-existence of diversions or other alternatives to a formal trial before the juvenile court in cases of children under the age of 15. The participants described this shortcoming as very unfair, and one of the probation officers stated that it was particularly problematic and noticeable in situations where an offense was committed in complicity with a juvenile, as in the case of a juvenile, the case may be terminated by using a diversion, but in the case of a child under the age of 15, the proceedings must go to court. A change in this could be supported by the implementation of a recent decision of the European Committee of Social Rights, which criticizes the Czech Republic for insufficient procedural guarantees in criminal justice proceedings against children under the age of 15, i.e. below the age of criminal responsibility.
Foreign and domestic lecturers attended the seminars. In the first part of the seminar Mikiko Otani, Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Dainius Püras, Director of the Institute for Human Rights Monitoring and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health (2014-2020), presented. The following lecturer was Eva Huls, an attorney and a substitute judge (rechter – plaatsvervanger) at the District Court in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Lecturers, Ian Marder, Scientific Expert to the Council of Europe on the preparation of Recommendations concerning restorative justice in criminal matters, Annemieke Wolthuis, a substitute judge (rechter – plaatsvervanger) at the Rotterdam District Court and a member of the European Forum for Restorative Justice and Petra Masopust Šachová, Chairwoman of the Institute for Restorative Justice and member of the Executive Committee of the European Forum for Restorative Justice, took part during the afternoon portion of the seminar on restorative justice.
A more detailed program of the webinars are available here:
The project is funded by the European Union’s Program – Rights, Equality and Citizenship (2014-2020).