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A minor in the criminal process

Hearing children in pre-trial investigations

As a crime victim, i.e. a complainant, the child has the same rights and obligations as other victims.

  • The right to compensation for the damage
  • The right to not answer questions, but if he/she speaks, he/she is obliged to tell the truth

The investigation of the crime shall not cause more harm to the child. The child shall always be treated according to age and development level. Hearing children is important.

  • The hearing takes place either at the police station or, especially with young children, in a paediatric forensic psychiatry unit
  • The parents of the child are normally seen before the hearing of the child
  • The child is usually questioned 1-3 times to get the most reliable story possible
  • The legal representative of the child (normally the parents/custodian or the deputy guardian) is notified about the hearing of the child
  • A representative of a child under the age of 15 has the right to accompany the child to the hearing, unless the representative himself/herself is suspected of the crime

However, the presence of the parents in the hearing room is not recommended. The presence can be organized via video from another room, for example. It is often easier for the person who hears the child to create a relationship with the child without the presence of the parents, and it might be easier for the child to talk independently about what happened. The parents’ reactions might worry the child and the child can even leave things unsaid to protect the parents. It can be difficult for a teenager or a young person approaching the teenage years to tell things that are essential for the pre-trial investigation if the parents are present in the same room.

“The parents’ reactions might worry the child and the child can even leave things unsaid to protect the parents”

Recording a hearing

  • If the victim’s story has been recorded during the pre-trial investigation and if an opportunity to ask questions has been reserved for the suspect, it might not be necessary to be present during the trial in certain situations
  • The hearing of a child under the age of 15 is usually recorded on audio and video, regardless if the hearing takes place at the police station or in a paediatric forensic psychiatry unit
  • The recording is written down word by word and the text is attached to the pre-trial investigation record
  • In general, children under the age of 15 do not have to appear in court in person to tell about the incident
  • The suspect of the crime has the right to ask questions to the child through the person at the paediatric forensic psychiatric unit or the police
  • Hearings with 15–17 years old children can also be recorded on audio and video recordings and be used as evidence in the trial, if the child is in need of special protection especially considering the child’s personal circumstances and the nature of the crime or if it’s a sexual crime referred to in Chapter 20, section 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 ,7 or 7 b of The Criminal Code of Finland and if the child doesn’t want to attend trial for hearing
  • A hearing with a victim of a sexual crime, referred to in Chapter 20, section 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 7 b of the Criminal Code of Finland, who turned 18 can also be recorded if the hearing during the trial may endanger his/her health or cause other corresponding significant harm

How to discuss with the child before the hearing?

  • Discuss as little as possible with the child before the hearing
  • If the child tells you something you can write it down
  • Don’t ask leading questions: ”Did he/she do something bad to you?”
  • You can explain about the hearing according to the child’s age level “You are going to a place where you can discuss a lot of things. You can talk about school, home, friends etc. Many children and young people of different ages discuss there!”
  • Also remember to make sure that the time for the hearing fits into the child’s daily routines and that the child has rested and eaten before the hearing

Consideration of the matter in the district court

If the prosecutor decides to bring charges the criminal case will be considered in the district court.  A date is set for the consideration of the matter when the actual oral trial is held in the district court. The district court asks the parents/custodian or the deputy guardian to submit the claims against the defendant to the court. The legal counsellor’s task is to prepare and submit the claims.

  • A child under the age of 15 who has fallen victim to a crime is represented by the parents/custodian or another legal representative, e.g. a guardian.
  • If the minor has reached the age of 15, he/she uses the right to be personally heard besides the parents/custodian or other legal representative
  • A child usually does not have to be present in person at the trial if he/she is under the age of 15 at the time for the trial and if the hearing has been recorded on audio and video recording in the pre-trial investigation and if an opportunity to ask questions has been reserved for the defendant
  • The hearing of the child during trial takes place by watching the audio and video recordings.
  • A 15–17-year-old child can also be heard in the same way if the child needs special protection or in case of a sexual crime referred to in Chapter 20, section 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 7 b of the Criminal Code of Finland and if the child does not want to attend trial for hearing
  • A victim of a sexual crime, referred to in Chapter 20, section 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 7 b of the Criminal Code of Finland, who has turned 18 can also be heard in the same way if a hearing during the trial could endanger his/her health or cause other corresponding significant harm

When a child over the age of 15 is heard in person during the trial, it is possible to use special arrangements to protect the child.

  • The district courts have screens that can be placed so the victim and the defendant cannot see each other
  • The hearing of the victim can, for example, take place so that the defendant is moved from the room to another room during the hearing where he/she can hear the victim’s story but not see the victim
  • In newer court rooms there are witness boxes for victims who are afraid, where the victim can sit behind a mirror glass where the defendant cannot see the victim
  • In some rare cases it may be possible to hear the victim or the witness only via video connection whereby the victim/witness does not have to be present in the court room at all

It is good to talk about the hearing in advance with your own assistant who can ask for e.g. screens to the district court. It is possible to let the child get acquainted with the court’s premises before the trial.

What is public and what secret?

  • Trials regarding sexual crimes are usually arranged behind closed doors
  • Then no outsiders, i.e. audience, are allowed in the court room
  • The victim’s identity and the documents are ordered to be kept secret, but the sentence is not necessarily kept completely secret
  • The name of the defendant, the crime for which he/she is convicted, compensations and penalties are public information

Further information about the trial and other questions about the criminal process can be found under the column Frequently asked questions and under the Criminal Process section.

What is a guardian?

If the suspect of a crime against a child is a parent/custodian, a relative or other close person to the parent/custodian, the parent/custodian cannot represent the child. This means that if one of the parents is suspected of a crime against the child, neither parent can be the child’s guardian in the case. The child is then designated a deputy guardian.

When the child’s parent/custodian or a person close to him/her is suspected of the crime against the child, a child welfare process is usually initiated as well. It might be wise that the same guardian represents the child both in the child welfare case and in the criminal case.

  • The authorities take care of the appointment of a guardian
  • The investigator in charge can file a petition for the appointment of the guardian
  • The petition can also be filed by the prosecutor or the social authority
  • The legal counsellor can for example be the child’s guardian
  • The appointment of the guardian is valid until the end of the consideration of the criminal case
  • The costs for the appointment of the guardian and the guardian’s fee are paid by the state

Where can you get legal help and what does it cost?

A child who has fallen victim to a crime needs a legal counsellor who also can be the child’s guardian if needed. It is good to get an assistant immediately after reporting the crime. It can be either a private lawyer asianajajat.fi, a public legal counsellor from the public legal aid office or a licensed legal counsel.

  • The fee for the assistant of victims of sexual crimes, victims of domestic violence or victims of serious violence can mainly be paid with state funds, regardless of the complainant’s income or wealth
  • In other crimes the child can get legal aid that depends on the income and wealth, the state can then partially or entirely pay the assistant’s fees.
  • When calculating the child’s income and wealth the parents’ income and wealth are not considered

The child and his/her relatives can get a support person from the Victim Support Finland for free who, in addition to the legal counsellor, is involved in every step of the criminal process.  You can ask for a support person from the Victim Support Finland’s nearest service point or by filling in this contact form.