31 January 2024

Child-Friendly Justice in Georgia

Georgia took the first steps to introduce child-friendly justice in 2009 with the initiation of the Juvenile Justice Reform. Initial phases of the reform covered mainly issues related to children in conflict with the law. In the following stage, with the adoption of the Juvenile Justice Code in 2015, this extended to child victims and witnesses as well. The Juvenile Justice Code introduced the principle of the best interests of the child, basic standards for specialization of justice professionals and multidisciplinary work, access to free legal aid for juveniles in conflict with the law, child victims and some categories of child witnesses. The Code provides child friendly justice principles and guarantees for administrative proceedings and judicial proceedings on matters of civil and administrative laws involving children and strengthens safeguards and procedural guarantees for children in criminal justice proceedings as well. In particular, these provisions introduce broader and stronger system of institutional specialization, access to legal aid for all children in contact with justice system, multidisciplinary approach and obligation of the common courts to administer criminal, civil and administrative justice proceedings involving children in line with the Code. Thus, the Code together with the Juvenile Justice Code provides a solid framework for the establishment of a child-friendly justice system covering all domains of justice where children may appear. The Code places obligations on all stakeholders whose work and decision-making processes affect children and their rights. These obligations encompass actors at all levels: extending from high-level actors in Parliament, Courts, and Public Prosecutions Offices to police, social workers and lawyers working in remote regions. Obligations reach NGOs, other administrative bodies and individuals working for private organisations (for example, as service providers). Ultimately, child-friendly justice is a concept that has to be lived by professionals and by the stakeholders as part of their joint responsibility to protect children’s rights. Consequently, mindsets and actions of key actors in the system must also become child-friendly to ensure that all children in all areas of Georgia benefit from the Code when they are involved in justice proceedings or when they seek justice. Key decisions affecting or about children occur at all stages of the justice chain and child-friendly justice must not only be available during justice proceedings; child-friendly justice must be ensured before and after justice proceedings as well. Specific and practical recommendations are therefore needed to ensure the entire justice chain in Georgia can become truly child-friendly in practice as mandated by the Code on the Rights of the Child and Georgia’s commitment to international human and children’s rights law.