Project launch : My Lawyer, My Rights

The right to access legal counsel and representation throughout criminal judicial proceedings is essential to enable children to effectively enjoy and exercise their rights. The Directive 2013/48/EU that enshrines the rights of all suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings, yet contains few provisions dedicated to improving the protection of children. The Directive does, however, refer to the Council of Europe (COE) Guidelines on Child Friendly Justice (CFJ) that recognize the need to adapt the justice system to the specific rights and needs of children. There are multiple dimensions for children to exercise this right: the child needs to know how and when to contact the lawyer, what to expect, and what to do if this service is not satisfactory, etc. A good defence plays a major role in the measures taken by the judge and the child’s ability to reintegrate and rehabilitate after the criminal justice proceedings. But even though legal aid and representation are recognized as children rights, their application is not systematic among member States. The access to a lawyer for children remains a challenge in most European countries. And yet promoting child-friendly justice means guaranteeing the full satisfaction of their rights.

Funded by the European Commission and coordinated by DCI-Belgium, the project My Lawyer, My Rights has several aims :
- Supporting Member States and advocating for the correct implementation of three Directives on procedural rights, specifically in cases where the person accused or suspected is a child, through practical tools and recommendations;
- Define the conditions for an effective right to defence;
- Assist Member States in establishing national structures specialized in child legal and social aid;
- Developing further and deeper the specificities of the role and mission of a lawyer for children, his training and the structures needed to fully guarantee children’s rights, including formal legal aid systems and socio-legal defence centers;
- Support youth lawyers to become key actors in a proper implementation of the right to access a lawyer for children in criminal proceedings by providing them with information and practical tools to improve their skills and empower them;
- Provide information on existing best practices & (inter)national legislation in the field of juvenile justice in other Member States;
- Focus on youth’s opinion by asking them what THEY think of their right to be properly assisted during proceedings.

To achieve this, our partners teams will work on on :
- Mapping of the youth lawyers systems in the UE. The goal is to have an overview of the existing youth lawyers systems in at least 15 countries. This desk-research will analyse the Legislation, Practice, Financing systems, Type of training youth lawyers get, Associations of youth lawyers and their functioning, existing tools at national level (Manuals/self-training tools/role of the lawyer reports, etc.), Existing reports on child views (participation) and professional views on this topic;
- Editing an online platform whose goal is to provide Member States and other relevant actors with practical and easily accessible tools to track themselves the effective and efficient transposition of the Directive 2013/48 into Juvenile Justice systems; to dispose of tools and examples on: training of the lawyers, definition of their role, child legal aid structures, ethical guidelines and principles, examples of financing systems, etc. All outputs will also be published in this website;
- Professionals and policymakers capacity-building for the correct implementation of the EU Directive (2013/48/UE). This phase is talking about an online manual addressed to Member States in order to indicate how to ensure the legal and justice systems comply with the EU Directive (2013/48/UE) and other EU law standards in the field of Juvenile Justice. Then another online manual addressed to youth lawyers will remind the minimum principles that are applicable in child case. Finally, the editing of a video performed by children and addressed to youth lawyers (video testimonies from BE, NL, IR, IT, BG and PL);
- Implementation of advocacy and dissemination strategies. The advocacy strategy will be implemented in the 6 partner countries (Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Ireland and Bulgaria). The goal is to enter into direct dialogue with national actors and youth lawyer associations and bars through information sessions (including awareness-raising modules + presentation of project’s results) within different public institutions (ministries, youth justice agencies, related government departments, etc.) + in-person meetings with key actors at the decision-making level. At UE level the dissemination Strategy in the 28 EU countries concerns the presentation of the project’s outputs and results in at least 3 strategic EU conferences, presentation of the project’s outputs and results in the EU Parliament.

Project partners :
• Belgium – Defence for Children International (DCI) - coordinator
• ITALY - Defence for Children International (DCI)
• POLAND - Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
• IRELAND- Child Law Clinic (UCC)
• THE NETHERLANDS- Defence for Children International (DCI)
• BULGARIA- Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
• BELGIUM - Child Circle
• DLA Piper – European Law firm
• European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA) - association of independent specialist defence lawyers

This project has officially started on the 1st of September 2016 and will last for two years.

The project My Lawyer, My Rights will have its own website. More info coming soon.