Children as witnesses before justice


Children during their involvement as witnesses in judicial proceedings deserve special treatment and democracy and by extension the courts must take appropriate measures to protect them.   

We must not forget that children, because of their age, are a vulnerable group and therefore need special protection.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which almost all states are signatories, imposes on them the obligation to take into account the interests of the child, particularly during judicial proceedings.  Courts should focus on protecting children as witnesses rather than subjecting them to proceedings that may harm children, particularly in light of the circumstances of the case involving them.

We have all witnessed in recent years the rise in incidents of rape, sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.  Consequently, as a result of this increase, the number of children who have to come before the courts has risen.   In the case where the suspect has to appear in court and the child has to testify as a witness for the prosecution, the child will have to experience the unfamiliar procedure before the court, while at the same time facing both the physical presence of the suspect and the bad memories of the incidents.

In recent years the approach to the age of the child witness has changed. That is, the previous approach/ rule regarding the age of the child as a competent witness no longer exists.  The most recent international research concludes that even the youngest children can provide credible testimony to the court. However, the maturity of the child should be determined in court in order to ensure a fair trial.  

European and international human rights instruments recognise that access to justice and the right to be heard are fundamental rights and that every child should be able to fully enjoy these rights.  They also recognise the significance of children's participation in the justice system, which should be more child-friendly.

The apparent rise in the number of sexual offences against children requires increasing support for them in a hearing.  The 'scary' environment of the courtroom and the contact with the opposing parties, and the accused can affect the child's testimony, which is why in many cases it is often preferable to take statements and examine these using video recordings (through audiovisual media).

We should also not forget the obligation of lawyers to be calm and friendly and to use language that is simple and understandable to the child. 

 The justice system should be designed so that the shame, fear, and even guilt that children may feel, resulting in their often resorting to silence, is minimized, so that they are braced to testify, not pushed away from justice. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child undoubtedly sets the stage for a "more child-friendly" justice system in our country.

The content of this article is valid as at the date of its first publication. It is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you seek professional advice on your specific matter before acting on any information provided. For further information or advice, please contact Savvas Savvides, Partner, Michael Kyprianou & Co LLC, at telephone 26930800 or email savvas.savvides@kyprianou.com