Questioning a child in preliminary investigations
As a victim of crime, i.e. the plaintiff, a child has the same rights and obligations as other victims. A child is entitled to compensation for damages caused to him/her. He/she has the right to not answer questions presented to him/her and he/she also has the obligation to speak the truth. The investigation of the crime must not cause further harm to the child. The child must always be treated in accordance with his/her age and maturity.
Questioning the child is important. It takes place either at the police station or, particularly in case of small children, at a psychiatric investigation unit for children and young people. Most children are questioned at the police station. A psychologist specialised in interviewing children shall question the child at the psychiatric investigation unit. The child’s parents are usually met before questioning the child.
In order to obtain a report of the events that is as reliable as possible, the child is usually questioned 1-3 times. A lot of time is spent creating a strong connection with the child. The child can be met for the first time without covering the actual criminal suspicions at all.
The child’s legal representative (usually the guardian) is informed about the child being heard. The representative has the right to be present when the child is questioned, except if the representative is the suspect of the crime.
The presence of parents in the interview room is not recommended. It is often easier for the interviewer to conclude a cooperation relationship with the child without the parents’ presence, and it may be more natural for the child to tell about the events independently. The child may worry about his/her parents’ reactions, and the child may even leave out part of the story to avoid worrying his/her parents. A teenager or young person may find it difficult to tell about matters that are essential for preliminary investigations, if the parents are present. A parent must not, under any circumstances, be present in situations, where it may be a case of the parent’s own interest, such as in a dispute situation related to custody.
If the questioning is carried out by a psychologist, the police will follow the interview via video connection from another room. Via video connection, the questioning can also be followed by the prosecutor, the child’s assistant, the guardian ad litem, the suspect’s assistant or the employees of the psychiatric investigation unit.
The questioning of a child under the age of 15 is recorded in an audio and video recording regardless of whether the questioning has been carried out at a police station or at a psychiatric investigation unit. Usually, a child under the age of 15 does not need to personally attend the trial to tell about the events, if his/her story has been recorded during the preliminary investigations. The suspect of the crime has the right to present questions to the child through the interviewer of the psychiatric investigation unit or the police.
When the child is going to be questioned, he/she must not be coached for the questioning. According to his/her maturity, he/she can be told that he/she is going to a place, where you can chat with a lady/man/police and that many children and young people of different ages go and chat there. There the child can chat and tell about all kind of life-related matters, such as school, friends, home, etc. It is the parents’ duty to ensure that the time of the questioning is suitable with the child’s daily routine and that the child has rested and eaten before the questioning.