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Juvenile Courts

The first “Juvenile court” at the global level was opened at the end of the nineteenth century.[1] Since then, such courts have become well-established institutions in many developed states, such as Japan, Britain, and Canada. According to Adler, in the United States the first child court was operated in Chicago on 1 July 1899.[2] The basis for specialized juvenile judiciary rested in the 1954 Juvenile Rehabilitation Law. Yet Palestinian children had to wait for over six decades until a provision has been explicitly adopted in the 2016 Juvenile Protection Law (Article 24) toward the establishment of specialized juvenile courts with full-time judges dedicated to the issues of children in conflict with the law.[3] This is indeed a breakthrough.

What distinguish the juvenile court from other courts are the requirements that such a court should meet while dealing with children in conflict with the law. According to the 2016 Juvenile Protection Law, juvenile court’s hearings should convene in different location and time than those of adult’s sessions.[4] Such a court is obliged to obtain a report from a child protection officer.[5] Before the juvenile court, children should be separated from adults.[6] No one is allowed to attend juvenile court’s sessions except the child protection officer, child’s parents or guardian, court’s staff, and persons directly related to the case.[7] No one is allowed to release information on child’s cases, subject to penalties.[8] Juvenile court should pursue certain procedures that differ from those of adults and impose lighter penalties,[9] including a series of noncustodial dispositions.[10] The Law established a system for enforcing juvenile court decisions that ensures the suitability of each judgment for each child on case-by-case basis,[11] including the option of ending the measure after its execution.[12] Courts overseeing children should decide on their cases promptly.[13]

The current situation of children before courts is alarming. There is no separation between children and adults. Children are often handcuffed. Many children have no lawyer. They wait for long periods, up to 1 or 2 years, before receiving final trial, mostly in detention centers or prisons. Judges treat children as criminals, with disrespect, rather than taking their point of view as the main reason of having child courts. Courts are overcrowded. Children are victimized within the slow process.[14]

The foregoing shows that there is an urgent need to create a specialized juvenile judiciary. There is awareness on the necessity of the juvenile courts in the Palestinian High Judicial Council,[15] as a result of civil society activities on this issue, including training and advocacy. Currently, there are a number of trained judges on juvenile issues. What is needed now is to take a decision, as part of the administrative power assigned to the Judicial Council, to establish fully separate juvenile courts with separate buildings from the other courts, with exclusive mandate over children in conflict with law. At least one judge should be assigned as juvenile, full-time, judge in each district. Special education and training, on national and international juvenile justice law and procedure, should be provided. Manuals and guidelines should be designed for judges’ use.[16] The estab?lishment of a juvenile court in March 2016 that embedded within the care institution (Dar Al-Amal) in Ramallah is a step forward.[17]

  • [1] Christian Herter, “Juvenile Courts Needed,” 39 Women Lawyers Journal 5 (1953); GrahamParker “Some Historical Observations on the Juvenile Court,” 9 Criminal Law Quarterly 467(1967); Graham Parker, “The Juvenile Court Movement,” 26 University of Toronto Law Journal140 (1976); Jean Trepanier and Francoise Tulkens, “Juvenile Justice in Belgium and Canada at theBeginning of the Century: Two Models or One,” 1 The International Journal of Children’s Rights189 (1993); Lawrence Wilson, “Jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court,” 19 Criminal Law Quarterly 203(1977).
  • [2] Adler, supra note 120, p. 218.
  • [3] Eileen Younghusband, “The Juvenile Court and the Child,” 7 British Journal Delinquency 181(1957); John MacDonald, “Juvenile Court Jurisdiction,” 7 Criminal Law Quarterly 426 (1965).
  • [4] Article 27.
  • [5] Article 25(3). See earlier, section II.2.
  • [6] Article 21(3).
  • [7] Articles 8 and 30(1). Cf. Carol Van Nijnatten, “Behind Closed Doors: Juvenile Hearings in theNetherlands,” 3 International Journal of Law and the Family 177 (1989).
  • [8] Articles 31 and 59.
  • [9] Article 24-35.
  • [10] Articles 36-46.
  • [11] Article 47.
  • [12] Article 51-55.
  • [13] Article 8.
  • [14] Dawoud Dirawi & Jihad Shomali, Juvenile Judiciary between Practice and Legislation (Ramallah2004).
  • [15] The High Judicial Council is the central body that administrates regular courts of various levelsin Palestine. Headed by Chief Justice, the Council is independent of the Executive and theLegislator. See Judicial Authority Law No. 1 of 14 May 2002 (Palestine Gazette No. 40, 18 May2002, p. 9).
  • [16] Manuals can be prepared based on existing guides developed globally by actors such as UNICEFand United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, taking into consideration the local law andpractice.
  • [17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, No. 7309, 24 March 2016, p. 1.
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