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Courts not children-friendly

A study carried out by the Civic Initiative Foundation in Kharkiv and Kharkiv regional courts has found little if any effort to accommodate for the needs of children and young people in court

In December last year the Civic Initiative Foundation carried out an interesting investigation. It checked five courts in Kharkiv and the Kharkiv region for their “child-friendliness”, i.e. how adapted they were to meet the specific needs of children who in some capacity needed to appear in court.

The results were not cheering, with a number of aspects identified which make the courts a daunting place for these young people.

No problem getting into the premises: in most cases no special documents were required. On the other hand, knowing where to go would be much more problematical, with information posted at a level out of a child’s reach and written in a way they would be unlikely to understand.

The problems do not end here, since even reading the material written for adults may not necessarily help. Only in one court was information available about a judge in juvenile cases, and even then only the surname of the judge was given, not hours of work, where the office was for hearing cases involving children, etc. Furthermore, in two courts there was no juvenile cases judge at all.

Half of the courts examined do not post information about the size of State duty and who is exempted from it, and some of the information available was out of date.

Then, even assuming you’ve grappled successfully with the information, the next hurdle is also formidable, since none of the offices in any way indicate what can be found within.

Only one of the courts has a lift, although most of the courtrooms are on a higher floor making access problematical for people with disabilities.

Waiting for a court hearing is a real ordeal for child or young person, yet none of the courts has a psychologist’s office or room specially decked out for children.  Incidentally parents often bring children with them to court hearings simply because they have nobody to leave them with. It would therefore be well worth providing a place specifically for children.

Other problems include a shortage of chairs to sit on.  There were also no toilets for the public at all in some of the courts, and in three of the courts, they were locked, with the keys to be obtained from court staff. One toilet in fact had a sign saying for staff only. .

All of this adds additional strain in a situation which is already stressful for children.  In most cases what is needed is not extra financing, but pure good will.

It is certainly no better once the waiting is over, with the courtrooms highly daunting for young people. Not one of the courts had a separate room for hearing cases involving young people. This means that children are in courtrooms which may have a cage for holding defendants in criminal cases. There are also no special rooms where children can be questioned in a less intimidating environment.

The President of the Civic Initiative Foundation, Maria Ycenovska says that the results were not unexpected, and that in fact it is likely that the same would be found in the majority of Ukrainian courts.

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