Update on Clear Rights project

Legal assistance for children in Europe: what have we achieved?
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"The ideal lawyer to me is someone who explains me everything with patience, until I do understand what I need to know"
- Child Advisory Board member from Hungary

On 21 and 22 April 2022, Terre des hommes and its partners held in Budapest the first regional advocacy event of the CLEAR-Rights project   "Legal assistance to children: what have we achieved?". After many online meetings, over 50 participants, between the consortium members and professionals supporting the cause of a truly child-friendly justice, met in person to discuss some of the most relevant topics when it comes to legal assistance to children. Lawyers, prosecutors, judges, researchers and representatives of civil society organizations from Belgium, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Romania gathered to discuss and collaborate for the enhancement of child-friendly legal assistance in Europe.

During the event, three main publications were discussed:

  1. CLEAR-Rights European review of practices and gaps in legal aid systems for children: This European review is mainly based on desk research at national and European level and on the results of the consultations with professionals in the five countries. Based on the gaps and promising practices, the review draws some recommendations and suggests effective remedies ensuring equal access to free of charge legal assistance for all children.

  2. CLEAR-Rights Quality Standards and Step-by-Step Guide of legal assistance for children: Children in conflict with the law are entitled to quality legal assistance. However, for many of them in Europe, it remains difficult to have access to it. Gaps in terms of availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability of legal assistance have been identified during the review of the situation led in Belgium, France, Hungary, Romania, and The Netherlands during the first phase of CLEAR-Rights. In order to respond to these gaps, the project established quality standards and a step-by-step guide for legal assistance to children in conflict with the law, in an effort to increase access and quality of child-specific legal assistance in Europe.

  3. CLEAR-Rights Advocacy Brief: The CLEAR-Rights consortium would like to recommend to European governments and particularly the Ministers of Justice - in close cooperation with the bar associations - to review and, if necessary, to improve the criteria that a lawyer should comply with for accreditation to provide legal assistance to children in conflict with the law. This Advocacy Brief aims to contribute to this process of review and improvement, and contains a set of recommendations about what the minimum accreditation criteria should be in the key areas of education, certification or license, values, work experience, and continuous training. It also contains information about children’s views, the international legal framework and, by way of examples of good practice, the accreditation systems of Belgium and the Netherlands.

The work conducted by PILnet in Hungary (and globally) and the Alliance of Lawyers for Human Rights in France on their respective clearinghouses was presented to the audience, as well as the concept idea of the CLEAR-Rights European Clearinghouse, soon to be established.

In addition to that, the event's participants discussed about the CLEAR-Rights digital legal assistance assessment tool - with children themselves presenting the work done by them and making sure their voices were heard. This digital application was developed by Mind of My Own and co-designed with children from the CLEAR-Rights Child Advisory Boards (from France, Hungary, and Romania), to be used by children in conflict with the law receiving free legal assistance. This application will enable children who receive legal assistance to express their views, wishes and feelings in an instant and convenient way. It will also enable the service provider (either state-funded legal aid or pro bono service) to improve the quality of its work.

Following this event, between the Spring and Summer of 2022, trainings for lawyers in Belgium, France, Hungary, and Romania will be conducted to build their capacities when working on legal assistance for children.

As a result of this conference, collaboration between lawyers and relevant institutions in Europe was reinforced and its continuous strengthening was seen as as a necessary next step by the participants. Therefore, national advocacy events will take place on Belgium, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Romania starting September 2022.

The CLEAR-Rights consortium will continue to advocate for child-friendly legal assistance, always making sure that children are empowered and that they can also advocate for their own rights. The consortium is led by Terre des hommes Regional Hub in Hungary, PILnet, the Alliance of Lawyers for Human Rights (Alliance des Avocats pour les droits de l’homme) in France, Defence for Children International in Belgium, Terre des hommes Romania, and Defence for Children International - ECPAT in the Netherlands.