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Child-Friendly Justice: Developing the concept of social court practices

29 October 2020

Child-friendly Justice

Developing the Concept of Social Court Practices (878552 — CFJ-DCSCP)

The goal of this project is to improve criminal justice systems by making them more child-friendly to child victims and children suspected or accused of committing a crime, particularly for those  who are in vulnerable situations. There is a lack of understanding on how children should be assessed by criminal justice professionals to identify their social, educational, protection and/or restoration/reintegration needs within criminal justice processes. This project will focus on improving individual assessments of children in vulnerable situations in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania. In particular, it will focus on improving the situation for children with disabilities, children deprived of parental care and unaccompanied minors. The project will develop a set of specialist tools which will contribute to ensuring access to justice, a child-centred approach and ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to enhance their participation and to protect them from harm throughout the criminal justice process.  

Project description

The European Union Victims’ Rights Directive (2012/29/EU) and the Children Procedural Safeguards Directive (2016/800/EU) aim to assure child victims of crime and children who are suspected or accused of committing a crime a set of rights to enable them to be supported, protected and to actively participate in the criminal justice process in line with their needs and taking into account their individual vulnerabilities. These Directives emphasise the importance and obligation to understand their needs before any measures are applied by criminal justice authorities. The means to achieve this is through an individual assessment, where the information required to understand the child’s situation is collected by trained professionals in a child-friendly manner that enables their participation and protection. There is limited awareness of how to achieve these goals in practice across criminal justice systems, and how to undertake individual assessments for children with enhanced vulnerabilities, and the the importance of a multidisciplinary approach. 

This is a two-year project which started in July 2020, and is co-funded by the European Union Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020). It will focus on children in particularly vulnerable situations who experience multiple barriers within the criminal justice system and who are often side-lined or excluded. The project will take place and benefit directly 3 EU countries (Bulgaria, Italy and Romania), with the resulting tools and methods being of relevance more widely across the EU. 


This project builds upon past efforts and expertise to enhance access to justice for children with mental disabilities. It also draws on a project which was designed to identify and prevent the specific forms of abuses faced by children with disabilities in institutions under the CHARM project (JUST/2011/FRAC/AG/2799), and directly follows on from a recent project focused on enhancing the skills of legal professionals to represent children with mental disabilities in justice processes under the Innovating European Lawyers project (JUST/2015/JACC/AG/PROC/8625). These and other projects have all found that access to information and communication supports are central challenges for children with disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system 

In terms of the wider international context, the there is a strong normative basis requiring EU Member States to take action to enhance the participation and procedural rights of children with disabilities. This is express in the critical nexus between the obligations set out in the Directive (2012/29/EU) and Directive (2016/800/EU), together with the more recent EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights 2020-2025, the EU Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the EU acceded to the UNCRPD in 2010 and the Convention has been ratified by each of the 27 EU Member States, there is a lack of clarity as to how it applies in combination with existing EU law, and how this applies to children with in particularly vulnerable situations. Further, findings by the European Commission in May 2020 illustrate that transposition of the Victims’ Rights Directive has been insufficient and not enough has been done to ensure children in vulnerable situations are appropriately assessed, and consequently supported and protected.


The project aims to: 

  • Research promising practices in each jurisdiction (outputs: 3 analytical reports – BG, IT, RO); 
  • Develop models on promoting child-friendly justice and individual assessments focused on children with disabilities, unaccompanied minors and children deprived of parental care; 
  • Enhance the capacities of multidisciplinary teams of judges, lawyers, social workers and allied professionals; 
  • Pilot the ‘social court’ model in Bulgaria; and 
  • Cascade impact for children through cross-border collaboration and international dissemination. 


The project is being implemented over two years, between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2022.  

  • Research and data collection on existing promising practices in conducting multidisciplinary individualised assessments for children with enhanced vulnerabilities. It will bring together existing practices, highlighting specific gaps in the skills, knowledge and competences of judges, lawyers and other professionals involved in the administration of justice in guaranteeing the procedural rights of children with disabilities, unaccompanied minors and children deprived of parental care.  
  • Development of a suite of models and tools to aid professionals in conducting multidisciplinary individualised needs assessments for children with enhanced vulnerabilities. These will aim at promoting communication, participation in court proceedings and individual assessment of the social and environmental elements of children’s lives. 
  • Training and capacity-building of lawyers, judges and other professionals involved in the administration of justice to adopt a child-friendly approach to conducting individual assessments. These will take the form of training events, webinar Labs and an international symposium to enhance and exchange knowledge between relevant professionals in the project countries. 
  • Piloting the model of ‘social courts’ in two regional courts in Bulgaria. This pilot phase will be focused on testing the methods and tools developed under this project. 
  • Dissemination, by holding a final international conference (one day, up to 80 participants) targeting relevant European networks of lawyers, judges and justice professionals, as well as representatives of NGOs, CSOs and civil society concerned with the rights of children. 


  • 3 Research reports on existing judicial practices 
  • 3 Models of child-friendly court practices (1 focused on children with disabilities, 1 focused on unaccompanied minors, 1 focused on children deprived of parental care)
  • 3 Sets of training materials/tools 
  • 3 Conferences (1 in Bulgaria, 1 in Romania and 1 in Italy) 
  • 3 International Labs and 1 Feedback report 
  • 3 Training events for judges and lawyers  
  • 1 webpage with accompanying promotional materials 
  • 1 International symposium in Brussels where the international individual assessment models and project deliverables will be presented to EU officials, NGOs and other stakeholders.  


  • Validity Foundation (Validity, Hungary): brings 18 years substantive expertise in advocacy and international strategic litigation on the rights of people with disabilities. It uses legal strategies to promote, protect and defend the human rights of people with mental disabilities worldwide. 
  • The Bulgarian Center for Not-For-Profit Law (BCNL, Bulgaria): BCNL is the local affiliate of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL). The mission of BCNL is to provide legal support for the development of civil society in Bulgaria. BCNL spreads its activities over the territory of the whole country, providing expertise and legal assistance to NGOs, local government and institutions.  
  • PRISM Impresa Sociale s.r.l. (PRISM, Italy): PRISM is a non-for-profit Social Enterprise with the mission to create equal opportunities for the responsive progress of societies, communities, and people; a co-planning hub, open to public and private actors, for the elaboration of tailored development strategies and interventions, aimed at valorising diversity and sharing the social, cultural and economic resources of local communities, from an international perspective. – Facebook page
  • Centrul de Resurse Juridice (Centre for Legal Resources – CRJ/CLR, Romania): CLR has substantial experience and skill in providing complex legal and professional support to people with disabilities who have experienced human rights violations. It actively advocates for the establishment and operation of a legal and institutional framework that safeguards observance of human rights and equal opportunities, as well as free access to fair justice. 

Project Coordinator

Validity Foundation – Mental Disability Advocacy Centre 


Full name of the project

Child-Friendly Justice: Developing the concept of social court practices (878552 – CFJ-DCSCP). REC-AG-2019/REC-RCHI-PROF-AG-2019-878552.




The contents of this project represent the views of the project partners only and are their sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

This project is co-funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020).