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Age at which a child plaintiff can bring a civil case to court on their own

A ‘plaintiff’ is a person who initiates a civil legal action. As a rule, EU Member States require full legal capacity (procedural capacity) for this, meaning children are not allowed to be plaintiffs. As a result, their rights will be exercised by their parents and guardians, since they are the children’s legal representatives.

By way of exception, however, children may sometimes bring a case to court on their own if certain conditions are met. This applies, for instance, to proceedings related to family, property and employment. In these cases, children may have the right, under certain conditions, to address the court without the involvement of their parents or guardians.

Key aspects

  • The rule in every EU Member State is that children cannot bring a case to court on their own before they acquire full procedural capacity. In the vast majority of Member States, the corresponding minimum age for this is set at 18 years. In Portugal and Scotland, this is set at 16.
  • In some Member States, however, children who are married or become parents acquire the procedural capacity to bring a case to court on their own
  • By way of exception, in some Member States, children can bring a case to court on their own under certain conditions. This applies, for instance, to proceedings related to family, property and employment, but also – as seen in one case – paternity. Children’s capacity is closely linked to their capacity to exercise their own substantive rights, such as the right to marry or other family-related rights, the right to property or the right to work.
  • FRA’s research identified the following examples:
    • In Austria, children can bring to court, from the age of 14 onwards, cases on custody issues.
    • In Belgium, any exceptions shall be accorded ad hoc by courts.
    • In the Czech Republic, children can bring to court, from the age of 16 onwards, cases on marriage, parental consent to manage business enterprises by the child, and cases aiming to give full legal capacity to the child.
    • In Germany, children can bring to court business- or employment-related cases or cases concerning social benefits, if they are authorised by their parents and a court to operate a trade or business or to enter a service or employment.
    • In Estonia, children can bring to court family-related cases from the age of 14 onwards, depending on their maturity.
    • In Finland, children can bring to court, from the age of 15 onwards, cases related to employment or property issues, as well as to the establishment of paternity.
    • In Hungary, children can bring to court, from the age of 14 onwards, cases linked to their capacity to freely dispose of certain subjects, such as salaries earned with their work, or cases affecting their personal legal status (for example, filiation).
    • In Italy, children can bring to court, from the age of 15 onwards, cases related to employment.
    • In Latvia, children can bring to court, from the age of 15 onwards, cases related to property and employment.
    • In Lithuania, children can bring to court, from the age of 14 onwards, all cases regarding relations in which they have full legal capacity – for instance, if they are married, cases related to their marriage.
    • In the Netherlands, children can bring to court, from the age of 12 onwards, family issues related to them. Children 16 or over can also bring to court cases related to authorised contracts, especially employment issues or medical treatment agreements.
    • In Poland, children can bring to court, from the age of 13 onwards, family and guardianship cases related to their person.
    • In Slovakia, any exceptions are accorded ad hoc by courts.
    • In Slovenia, children 15 or over can bring to court cases concerning family issues, as well as cases regarding contracts.

Legal background

This issue is not distinctly regulated at the international or EU level, but it draws upon the right of children to be heard in all proceedings affecting their lives. Moreover, it constitutes an integral part of children’s right to access justice. According to Article 12 (2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, though, in judicial proceedings this right may be exercised “either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law”.

It thus lies within the powers of the Member States to make the appropriate legal arrangements, giving, however, due consideration to the principle of the best interests of the child and the child’s right to be heard.

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Publication date: 24 April 2018

Minimum age requirements concerning children's rights in the EU - Specific data on Justice (514.52 KB)