R.B. v. Estonia: The ECtHR calls for less strict procedural rules for children’s testimony

By Elena Patrizi, PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and affiliated with the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies, University of Geneva, Switzerland  

On 22 June 2021, the Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: ECtHR) released its judgment on the case of R.B. v. Estonia, a case concerning the effectiveness of a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of a 4-year child by her father. The case was brought before the ECtHR by the child, R.B., who alleged a 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 (hereinafter: ECHR). The father, the alleged perpetrator, was acquitted by the Estonian Supreme Court, which excluded decisive evidence on the ground that it was obtained in breach of procedural rules.

The ECtHR established that the Estonian justice system failed to be child-friendly as it did not take into account the child’s particular vulnerability and corresponding needs. On the contrary, it strictly applied the rules concerning the children’s testimony, which do not distinguish between children and adults. This resulted in a violation of the two provisions. As I will argue in this blog post, the judgment is important for reminding the contracting states that, although they have the difficult task of dealing with very sensitive cases, they can adequately protect the rights and needs of children through an effective child-friendly justice system.

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