Examples of child-friendly justice practices

Child-friendly justice can sound abstract and theoretical, so it can be helpful to review sound laws, policies and practices that flow from accepted principles of child-friendly justice. However, it is first important to note that there may not always be one correct solution to a problem that children face in the legal system. Rather, the aim of child-friendly justice is to provide a range of strategies that can be used to adapt a legal proceeding to the particular circumstances of the child or children involved.

Please bear in mind, then, that the examples below present just some of these solutions in just some of the contexts that children engage with the legal system.

Children as victims:

  • Social workers, police officers, teachers, doctors, nurses, hospital receptionists and anyone else who might encounter child victims should receive appropriate training and be able to quickly refer them to designated points of contact in the legal system.
  • Steps should immediately be taken to protect child victims from further harm and to link them with services they may need to reach a full physical and psychological recovery.
  • Free 24-hour helplines should be put in place to offer child victims a chance to discuss their options before bringing matters to the attention of authorities.

Children as witnesses:

  • Children should be interviewed by trained professionals in the presence of trusted adults; the number of interviews should be kept to an absolute minimum; and, where multiple interviews are necessary, the same interviewer should conduct each session.
  • When a child agrees to testify in court, measures should be taken to keep the child at ease. Children should not be forced to have contact with alleged perpetrators and, where appropriate, audio-visual or closed-circuit television technology should be made available to facilitate prerecorded testimony or live communication from a remote location.
  • Children should be asked straightforward questions in language that they understand; techniques designed to test or confuse witnesses, as are frequently employed during cross-examination in adversarial legal systems, should be avoided.
  • It should never be presumed that children's testimony or evidence is untrustworthy or inaccurate simply because it is not submitted by an adult.

Children as offenders:

  • Any child apprehended by the police and suspected of wrongdoing should be given an immediate opportunity to contact a parent, guardian or trusted person and provided with access to a lawyer free of charge.
  • Police officers should explain to children why they have been apprehended in a way that they can understand, and should not question children about their potentially offending behaviour until a parent, guardian, trusted person or lawyer has arrived.
  • Children should only be detained in exceptional circumstances and, where this is necessary, should never be detained alongside adults.

Children as complainants:

  • Children should have access to free legal advice to discuss their rights and the options available for pursuing violations of these rights.
  • Children should be able to initiate legal proceedings directly, through a parent or guardian, and through a chosen or appointed legal representative. Young adults should also be able to initiate legal proceedings to address childhood violations of their rights.
  • Court fees, parental permission requirements, legal representation mandates, and any other constraints that might prevent children from bringing legal proceedings should be removed.