Special support and procedural safeguards for victims

Special procedural safeguards for child victims involved in criminal proceedings – such as audio-visual recording or interviews conducted by specialised personnel – aim to ensure a child-friendly environment, so that children can exercise their right to access justice, and more specifically their right to a fair trial, in an effective and secure manner. These safeguards should also foster their social reintegration.

To decide what measures to apply, children’s specific needs according to their age and maturity are taken into consideration.

Data on victims and witnesses are shown in this web-publication.

For information on the upper age at which child suspects/offenders in judicial proceedings are entitled to special support and procedural safeguards, see our interactive data explorer.

View full dataset in data explorer.

Key aspects

Upper age limits applied for child victims, witnesses and suspects/offenders:

  • In the majority of EU Member States, the upper age limit for children to be entitled to special support and procedural safeguards is set at 18 years, irrespective of whether they are victims, witnesses or suspects/offenders.
  • In just a few Member States, that limit is set at a lower age. Other Member States do not regulate the issue; courts, however, may adopt such measures depending on the circumstances of the case.
  • In some Member States, more procedural safeguards apply – especially for younger children.

Judicial proceedings involving child victims

  • The upper age limit for special support and procedural safeguards for child victims is set at 13 years in the Netherlands; at 15 years in Poland; and at 16 years in Croatia and Malta. In the United Kingdom, Scotland sets the limit at 16 years; England and Wales at 17 years; and Northern Ireland at 18 years. In Poland, however, procedural safeguards can be extended to child victims over 15 in cases of violent crimes, crimes against liberty, or sexual offences.
  • This issue is not regulated in Cyprus and Germany. In Germany, the general rules concerning information and psychosocial support for adult victims also apply to child victims.
  • In Estonia, special treatment for child victims is provided depending not only on children’s age, but also on their mental and health status, as well as on the nature of the offence.
  • More special protective measures apply for child victims under 12 in the Netherlands; for children under 14 in Austria and Latvia; as well as for children under 15 in Denmark, Finland and Slovenia.

Legal background

The special treatment foreseen for children in criminal proceedings is enshrined in Article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises the right of children accused of crime “to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth”.

At EU level, the Directive on special safeguards for children, taking into account the Guidelines of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice, sets out a comprehensive legal framework establishing common minimum rules on the protection of procedural rights of children suspected or accused of crime. In the context of the directive, all children under 18 are entitled to special procedural safeguards. These cover, for instance, children’s right to receive information in simple and accessible language (Article 4); their right to be assisted by a lawyer and access legal aid (Articles 6 and 18); the right to protection of their privacy (Article 14); the right to an individual assessment carried out by qualified personnel to define their specific needs in terms of protection, education, training and social integration (Article 7); the rule of audio-visual recording of questioning (Article 9); and the right to a medical examination (Article 8).

Regarding child victims, other procedural safeguards are provided by the Victims’ Rights Directive. In this respect, child victims have, for instance, the right to the protection of their privacy (Article 21). Of critical importance is child victims’ right to an individual assessment to identify their specific protection needs and to determine whether they should benefit from special protective measures in the course of criminal proceedings (Article 22). Special protective measures include, for instance, interviews carried out in appropriately designed or adapted premises and conducted by the same person and in a gender sensitive manner; measures to avoid visual contact between victims and offenders; as well as allowing a hearing to take place without the presence of the public (Article 23). Article 24, moreover, obliges EU Member States to ensure that in cases of child victims, all interviews with a child may be audio-visually recorded and that these recorded interviews can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. Article 24 (2) prescribes that, in the case of doubt about a victim’s age, the victim has to be presumed to be a child if there are reasons to believe so.