Pre-trial detention

Pre-trial detention involves depriving children accused of certain offences of their liberty before they are convicted. European legislation requires courts to take into account the accused child’s age and individual situation, as well as the particular circumstances of the case. Moreover, EU Member States should avoid imposing pre-trial detention on children when possible. Setting minimum age requirements, however, lies within the powers of Member States.

The issue of pre-trial detention is linked to the age at which juvenile offenders can be subject to custodial sanctions and measures (detention), set by Member States. The corresponding data can be consulted through the data explorer. As a rule, the minimum age for being subject to sentences imposing detention is the same as the minimum age for criminal responsibility.

For information on the age as of which fingerprinting of children is required under criminal justice in different Member States, see our interactive data explorer.

View full dataset in data explorer.

Key aspects

  • Children accused of committing an offence may be subject to pre-trial detention in all EU Member States. As a general trend, the minimum age for being subject to pre-trial detention is the same as the minimum age for criminal responsibility.
  • Children can be subject to pre-trial detention starting at the age of 14 in half (14) of the Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain).
  • The age threshold is 10 years in Ireland and the United Kingdom (except for Scotland, where the minimum age is 12). In Hungary and the Netherlands, children can be subjected to pre-trial detention from the age of 12 onwards; in France, from 13 years; in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Poland and Sweden, from 15 years; and in Croatia and Portugal, from the age of 16.
  • No minimum age is provided for by law in Luxembourg.

Legal background

As acknowledged in Recital 45 of the Directive on special safeguards for children, children deprived of their liberty are in a particularly vulnerable situation, and such deprivation results in great risks to their physical, mental and social development. Member States are consequently expected to avoid pre-trial detention whenever possible. Article 10 (1) of the directive provides that “Member States shall ensure that deprivation of liberty of a child at any stage of the proceedings is limited to the shortest appropriate period of time. Due account shall be taken of the age and individual situation of the child, and of the particular circumstances of the case”.