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Children in court proceedings should be heard at much younger age

On 2 March 2020 the report Kind in proces: van communicatie naar effectieve participatie (Children in proceedings: from communication towards effective participation) was published. This multidisciplinary research report is the outcome of an inspiring collaboration between various departments at Leiden University, most notably the Department of Child Law at Leiden Law School, and the Departments of Forensic Family and Youth Care Studies and Developmental and Educational Psychology at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

Commissioned by the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) of the Ministry of Justice and Security, Professor Mariëlle Bruning, Dr Daisy Smeets, Apollonia Bolscher, Dr Jiska Peper and Renske de Boer conducted research into the right to be heard and the position of minors in the family and youth justice system which led to the publication of the report Kind in proces: van communicatie naar effectieve participatie.

The research was prompted by a recommendation of the Staatscommissie Herijking Ouderschap (Government Committee on the Reassessment of Parenthood) contained in its report Child and Parents in the 21st Century. This report was published on 7 December 2016 and providied a broad assessment of the position of minors in proceedings involving family and child law, including the right to be heard.

The position in proceedings and the right to be heard of minors in such proceedings are central in the Leiden University report. A conflict or the risk of a conflict of interests can arise between parents and minors, where a great deal is at stake in the case of minors. Is it possible, and actually desirable, to broaden a minor’s position in proceedings and the right to be heard in the Dutch family and child law and, if so, how can this be achieved? This question is answered in the report by considering the legal framework in the Netherlands, relevant international standards, and relevant neuro-cognitive, psychological, and educational insights. The report also presents the outcomes of a research project on current practice and requirements in relation to the right to be heard of minors and their position in proceedings after consultation with children, parents, judges, lawyers, guardians, staff of the Dutch Child Care and Protection Board, certified institutions and Children and Youth Legal Advice Centres.

The report concludes that a shift is required from communication towards the effective participation of – even quite young – minors in family and child law   proceedings by implementing a number of improvements. For example, children from the age of eight – instead of the current twelve years – should be invited to be heard during proceedings involving family and child law. It should be made possible for minors aged twelve and older to initiate proceedings independently as well as to lodge an appeal. Certain factors related to context concerning the participation of minors in proceedings should be improved too. Another recommendation is that children should be supported more often during court proceedings by professionals such as a lawyer or guardian.

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