Special support and procedural safeguards for witnesses

Special procedural safeguards for children involved in criminal proceedings as witnesses – such as audio-visual recording or interviews conducted by specialised personnel – aim to ensure a child-friendly environment for children so they can report and contribute to the judicial proceedings in an effective and secure manner.

To decide which measures to apply, the 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 age limit is set at a lower age. Other Member States do not regulate the issue; courts may, however, adopt such measures depending on the circumstances of the case.
  • In some Member States, more procedural safeguards apply – especially for younger children.

Judicial proceedings for child witnesses

  • In the majority of EU Member States, the upper age limit for special support and procedural safeguards is set at 18 years.
  • The upper age limit for special support and procedural safeguards for child witnesses is set at 14 years in Estonia; at 15 years in Poland; and at 16 years in Croatia and Malta, and 13 in the Netherlands. In Poland, however, procedural safeguards can be extended to child witnesses over 15 in cases of violent crimes, crimes against liberty, or sexual offences. In the United Kingdom, Scotland sets the limit at 16 years; England and Wales at 17 years; and Northern Ireland at 18 years.
  • More special protective measures apply for child witnesses under 12 in the Netherlands; for children under 14 in Austria, Hungary and Latvia; and for children under 15 in Denmark and Finland.

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).