Justice system in Moldova has become more youth-friendly and closer to international standards
The number of juveniles in preventive detention isolation wards has decreased by half in the last six months.
CHISINAU, 26 February 2007 - UNICEF and the Supreme Court of Justice of Moldova held a press conference last week to announce the first encouraging results of the latest amendments to the national legislation concerning children in conflict with the law.
The results suggest that the justice system in Moldova has become more youth-friendly and closer to European and international standards. This is to a great extent due to amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code adopted by Parliament in August 2006.
The amendments were made to legislation affecting children in conflict with the law, and the results and impact of these changes can already be seen. The maximum term of detention for children under 18 was reduced from 15 years to 12.5 years and the length time that they can be held before being formally charged with a crime has been reduced from 72 hours to 24 hours. Furthermore, criminal investigations of children are now the responsibility of the Prosecutor’s Office and not the police.
These amendments have also improved the situation of children already in detention by allowing for a review of the case files that sent them to prison. To date, 41 applications for review have been submitted to the Supreme Court of Justice; in 24 cases the sentences were reduced either by shortening the term of detention or by requiring unpaid community service instead of incarceration. The other 17 files are still under review.
A 2004 study on the “Situation of Children in Places of Detention”, published by UNICEF and the Institute of Penal Reform, revealed that the right to legal defence was most often violated in case of children in conflict with the law:
Since August 2006 when the new amendments came into force, 600 children have been charged with crimes. Of these, 380 cases went to court and 130 were dismissed at the criminal investigation stage. In the majority of the court cases, alternatives to detention were recommended.
According to recent data from the Department of Penitentiaries, there are currently 73 juveniles in preventive detention isolation wards; 121 in Lipcani and 14 in Rusca penitentiaries. These are much lower numbers than one year ago.
Young people also seem to be observing the law to a greater extent as the number of crimes committed by juveniles decreased from 2,181 in 2005 to 1,785 in 2006.
“The accomplishments of the joint efforts of national authorities, NGOs specializing in criminal law reform and UNICEF are a good example to follow. Our legislation and the treatment of children in the criminal justice system are closer to the requirements of the European Union, and professionals now try to have a more humane attitude towards children,” said Raisa Botezatu, Vice Chairman of the Supreme Court of Justice.
“Under conditions when most of the crimes committed by children are of an economic nature and are first offences, investigating their cases as quickly as possible and applying alternatives to detention are basic requirements,” according to Eugen Rusu, Head of the Department for Minors and Protection of Human Rights at the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Referring to the impact of the amendments, UNICEF Representative in Moldova Ray Virgilio Torres said, “It is obvious that the amendments to Moldova’s criminal legislation were in the interests of children who are in conflict with the law. These are initiatives that need to be continued whenever possible, especially alternatives to detention and the provision of specialized rehabilitation services for children who make mistakes. Children belong in school, not in prison.”
Extended detention of juveniles has severe consequences on their long-term development. The promotion of alternatives to detention is a priority for the justice system in Moldova, so that imprisonment of children in conflict with the law becomes an exceptional measure. In cases where detention cannot be avoided, it should be for the shortest possible period of time.