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Right for plaintiffs to waive their lawyer

Waiving one’s right to a lawyer means choosing to present oneself in a judicial proceeding without the assistance of a lawyer. A ‘plaintiff’ is the person who initiates a civil legal action.

The right to a lawyer in any kind of procedure can be waived only if national legislation does not require a lawyer’s assistance, independently of any age considerations. Child suspects/offenders are not permitted to waive their right to a lawyer in most Member States. Child plaintiffs, as well as child victims, can waive their right to a lawyer in more Member States.

For information on the age at which child suspects/offenders as well victims can waive their right to a lawyer, see our interactive data explorer.

View full dataset in data explorer.

Key aspects

  • Child plaintiffs under 18 cannot waive their right to a lawyer in the majority of Member States (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania and Slovenia).
  • By contrast, no minimum age requirements are provided for in Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, waiving the right to a lawyer is possible only when the legislation permits plaintiffs – regardless of age – to support their case without a lawyer’s assistance.
  • This issue is not regulated in Bulgaria, Latvia and Portugal.

Legal background

The conditions for waiving the right to a lawyer in the case of persons suspected or accused of crime are laid down in Article 9 of the Access to a Lawyer Directive. Member States, however, may require the presence or assistance of a lawyer in their national legislation.

Concerning children, the Directive on special safeguards for children does not contain any provision similar to Article 9 of the Access to a Lawyer Directive. To the contrary, its Article 6 (2) stipulates that “Member States shall ensure that children are assisted by a lawyer in accordance with this Article in order to allow them to exercise the rights of the defence effectively”. Article 6 (6) specifies that EU Member States shall ensure the assistance of children by a lawyer “(a) when they are brought before a competent court or judge in order to decide on detention at any stage of the proceedings within the scope of this Directive; and (b) during detention”. Member States shall also ensure that “deprivation of liberty is not imposed as a criminal sentence, unless the child has been assisted by a lawyer in such a way as to allow the child to exercise the rights of the defence effectively and, in any event, during the trial hearings before a court”. Consequently, even though waiving their right to a lawyer is not explicitly excluded for children, Member States are obliged to provide for legal assistance and effective defence of child suspects/offenders in criminal proceedings. The Victims’ Rights Directive, however, includes no such provision.


Publication date: 24 April 2018

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