When a child is accused, prosecuted or convicted of an offence, s/he will be confronted with a justice system that is very often insufficiently adapted to his/her specific needs as a child. In this context, the protection of their rights, particularly procedural rights, will depend to a large extent on whether or not they benefit from quality and adapted legal assistance. However, for lawyers to provide appropriate assistance and representation to children in such situations requires not only specific legal skills and knowledge (e.g., regarding the procedures that apply to children or their special procedural rights), but also the capacity to mobilise knowledge from other disciplines (e.g. psychology) and soft skills (e.g. knowing how to communicate effectively with a child). Many European and UN standards provide for the absolute necessity of legal aid providers to undergo specific training, both initial and ongoing, in order to be able to assist a child. International standards provide inter alia that training should be multidisciplinary and enable professionals to gain knowledge and practical skills regarding children’s rights, communicating with children, adapting procedures for children, the psychology of the child and child development. For example, The Council of Europe Guidelines on child friendly justice state that “All professionals working with and for children should receive necessary interdisciplinary training on the rights and needs of children of different age groups, and on proceedings that are adapted to them. Professionals having direct contact with children should also be trained in communicating with them at all ages and stages of development, and with children in situations of particular vulnerability”.(1) It is therefore recommended that authorities ensure specialised, advanced and free initial training for lawyers in relation to child law and youth-related issues. In addition, they should propose continuous specialised training that covers child justice matters. This guide intends to join this effort to build the capacity of lawyers to carry out their work with children in the best possible way.
(1) Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice, nov. 2010, page 23, available online: https://rm.coe.int/16804b2cf3