Judgment No. I. ÚS 3304/13 - Children must be allowed to attend the hearing in cases concerning them

14 March 2014

On 28 February 2014 the First Chamber of the Constitutional Court annulled decisions of the lower courts for violation of rights of minor applicants (17 and 10 years of age) guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and the Convention on Rights of the Child, namely the child’s right to access to court, to be heard and to attend the hearing.

In a civil dispute held before the Mladá Boleslav District Court, a conflict-of-interest guardian (the Office for Social and Legal Protection of Children) was appointed to represent the interests of the applicants, which conflicted with the interests of their parents. Since then, the applicants were not invited to attend the hearings, they were not even informed about them and they did not receive the judgments. The Office for Social and Legal Protection of Children had not filed an appeal on their behalf, and the appeals filed by the applicants themselves and their parents, were rejected.

The Constitutional Court noted that the court-appointed guardian was essentially foisted on the applicants at the outset of the proceedings, notwithstanding the will of their statutory representatives and their own will. In such a case, it does not principally suffice if the court only communicates with the court-appointed guardian. The appointment of the guardian does not absolve the court from the duty to involve the child in the proceedings unless it contradicts with the child’s best interests. Mainly, the court must allow the child to attend the hearing. It must be prevented that the child is regarded as merely an object which others decide on.

The right to be heard is essential for children as it helps them to understand that they are not an object or passive observers, but that they are an important subject of rights and a party to the proceedings. It has to be observed that the right of children to be heard in cases affecting them and to attend such hearings is not absolute. However, its limitation must be properly substantiated with respect to the best interest of the child. Involvement of children in the proceedings may be precluded for example by their very young age or the merits of a given case being harmful for them. In the present case, however, the Constitutional Court has not found any reason to limit these rights of the applicants. For these reasons, the Constitutional Court found that the applicants’ rights were violated and annulled respective decisions.