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Since 1982 family courts have played a dominant role in juvenile proceedings. According to the original wording of the JA, juvenile proceedings consisted of three stages: explanatory proceeding, which was equivalent of preparatory proceeding in adult criminal cases; court proceeding; and enforcement proceeding. The preparatory stage was instituted and conducted by the family judge who after its completion transferred the case to the court stage. In 2013 the JA was amended.[1] As a result of the amendment, juvenile cases due to ‘demoralization’ as well as ‘punishable acts’ were dealt with by a family court in a unified court proceeding which did not distinguish the preparatory stage. The scope of activities of the police in juvenile cases was very limited under the original wording of the JA and is still limited after the 2013 amendment.

In terms of Article 32e of JA, the police are competent to collect and preserve evidence of ‘signs of demoralization’ and ‘punishable acts,’ including the interrogation of a juvenile suspect, in urgent cases. ‘Urgent cases’ refer to cases in which it is necessary to collect and preserve traces and evidence of juvenile offences and ‘signs of demoralization’ against loss or damage, before the formal initiation of proceedings by a family court. The police are obliged to report the case immediately to the family court after performing urgent actions. Empirical research indicates a discrepancy between the normative assumptions of the JA and the practice of dealing with juvenile suspects. In practice, information on juvenile suspects is usually obtained, at first by the police and in many cases the police take several evidence-gathering actions before referring the case to the family court (Czarnecka-Dzialuk et al. 2011; Jasinski and Pietryka 2014; Stando- Kawecka and Kusztal 2016). Thus, ‘urgent cases’ are interpreted broadly. The police have no discretionary powers; on the contrary, they are obliged to report every juvenile case immediately to a family court after having collected and stored the necessary evidence in urgent cases.

The role of the public prosecutor in juvenile proceedings has also been very limited. The JA does not provide for separation of functions of the prosecution and adjudication. A public prosecutor is party to the proceedings in juvenile cases and is entitled to submit requests for the performance of evidence, access files and make copies, attend the family court hearing as well as bring appeals, but does not present accusation nor makes decisions concerning the prosecution of punishable acts. Decisions to initiate formal proceedings in juvenile cases are taken exclusively by family courts.

  • [1] See Ustawa z dnia 30 sierpnia 2013 r. o zmianie ustawy o postqpowaniu w sprawach nieletnich orazniektorych innych ustaw, Journal of Laws 2013, pos. 1165.
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