In R.B. v. Estonia, ECtHR calls for less strict procedural rules for children’s testimony
Sep 10, 2021

Based on the evidence of the original case, the lower Estonian court convicted R.B.’s father of sexual abuse, ​with the child’s testimony forming a central part of the evidence against him. The appellate court upheld the ruling, ​but the Supreme Court ruled that the father had to be acquitted because of a breach of procedural rules in the criminal proceedings. This arose out of their finding that the evidence collection did not follow Estonian procedures which require ​all witnesses (children included) to be informed about ​their obligation to tell the truth, and that they have the right to refuse to testify against a member of their family.

The applicant brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The ECtHR found that there were significant flaws in the Estonian procedure, as it did not sufficiently take into account her particular vulnerability and corresponding needs as a young child so as to afford her effective protection as the alleged victim of sexual crimes. It found that, for the effective protection of children’s rights in line with international standards, it is essential to safeguard their testimony both during the pre-trial investigation and trial.  It referred to the Council of Europe Guidelines on Child Friendly Justice which notes that, where less strict rules on giving evidence or other child-friendly measures apply, such measures should not in themselves diminish the value given to a child’s testimony or evidence, without prejudice to the rights of the defence. It took the view that the rule should not have been strictly applied.

The court ruled in favour of R.B.’s allegation that the State was in violation of her rights under Articles 3 (Prohibition of torture) and 8 (Right to respect of private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. She was awarded damages and legal costs.

Read further analysis of this case at the Strasbourg Observers.

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