Estonian Juvenile and Restorative Justice System

10. September, 2009


Anu Leps

Foto: Carsten Pihl

In modern legislation, children are viewed as a vulnerable group and several measures have been introduced to protect the children due to the special needs arising from the specific nature of their development. This also applies to the Juvenile and Restorative Justice System in Estonia.

In modern legislation, children are viewed as a vulnerable group and several measures have been introduced to protect the children due to the special needs arising from the specific nature of their development. This also applies to the Juvenile and Restorative Justice System in Estonia.

The need for the systematic approach for dealing with the juvenile issues is relied on the statistical overview of the problems with youth and on the real life situation in Estonia. In Estonia the structure of juvenile crimes has not been changed during the last years. For years dominant criminal offences committed by minors (as for the adults) have consisted of larcenies and other offences against property, following breach of public order, illegal entries and unauthorised use of things (mainly the use of parents´ cars without asking the permission to do this). Most juvenile delinquents commit one crime and only a few commit several crimes. But as the change has not been enormous, then still in 2008 there have been identified 3208 crimes committed by 2289 minors. The identified crime rate has been increased in comparison to 2007 8% and the rate of committed crimes by minors has increased 12% in comparison of the 2007. The minor offenders are mainly boys, 83%, 17% girls are identified as offenders. Most of juvenile criminal offences have been committed in a group (for example more than 60% in 2006); and they mostly consist of larcenies, including theft from vehicles.

These numbers show, that there is clear need for dealing with the juvenile crime issues and because of this in 2003 the Parliament confirmed the Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2010[1], which states that criminal policy is development, improvement and implementation of social action plans for the purpose of impeding the spread of offences, reducing the severity of offences and possibilities of committing offences and the damage caused by them as well as influencing people to refrain from offences, protecting public order and increasing security in society. The principles of restorative and juvenile justice are taken into account in these guidelines. For example the prevention of juvenile delinquency is put into practice through the social prevention measures – influencing factors which cause crime through social, education, family, youth, cultural, church, economic, traffic and other policies for the purpose of laying the foundations for involving each person in social life, considering the objectives of society, in order to prevent the deviating behaviour arising from a person’s marginalisation.

In August 2005 the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Internal Affairs agreed on common priorities of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police, including paying attention to combating criminal offences committed by and against minors (so-called Laulasmaa declaration[2]), especially paying attention to the sexual and violent offences with child victims.

In addition to the abovementioned strategical documents there has been adopted one of the main strategies – Development Plan for Reduction of Juvenile Delinquency 2007-2009 (decided after the abovementioned priorities), which is confirmed by the Government and is meant for following for several institutions. The Development Plan has been drawn up based on the key developments in juvenile delinquency over the past few years, i.e. juvenile delinquents are becoming younger and the recidivism of juvenile delinquents is showing a growth tendency.

The main issues discussed in the Development Plan are as follows.

  • Noticing minors’ problems early and more effective networking in order to help the child.
  • Development of the system of the Juvenile Committees.
  • Reorganisation of schools for students who need special treatment due to behavioural problems.
  • The Development Plan continues to emphasise the importance of special treatment of minors in criminal proceedings and the need to process juvenile offences quickly.
  • Regards 2008 there has been done big steps towards the progress in reorganisation of schools for students who need special treatment due to behavioural problems, also regards the education of the parents and as the new prison is open– Viru prison – then the conditions for juveniles and especially male prisoners have improved.

    Guidelines for criminal policy and developmental plan for reduction of juvenile delinquency are at the moment in process of change and lengthening, so that the prioritization of juvenile delinquency is continually an important issue for the juvenile justice system of Estonia.

    In Estonia there are no special Juvenile Justice System authorities, as for example special courts or prisons or special police departments working with youth, but there is special attention paid to juvenile issues starting from social welfare, schools, juvenile committees reaching criminal proceedings, going through the way to the court and also after the decision made by court – in probation, in prisons, in rehabilitation system, but there are strategies special guidelines and amended legislation in respect of treating children as a special group and all these basic guidelines stipulate the basis for the understanding of juvenile justice system. For the everyday work the Laulasmaa declaration, common priorities of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police agreed by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Internal Affairs, play a great role. Both organizations have there own inside rules for working with juveniles and some of them are listed in the legislative acts.

    As the work with juveniles need quite different approaches, then the networking between the agencies is needed and in Estonia there has been done quite a number of network trainings for the working specialist in juvenile justice system. The trainings have centred to the following subjects – the socio-psychological approach to children, children rights, legislative distinctions for the juveniles, etc. In general terms, the child welfare activities could be classified under two groups: services, support and other assistance provided to the child and to his or her family to support establishment of a safe growing and development environment for the child, and foster care.

    In juvenile justice system a person who is at least 14 years of age is capable of guilt and is held responsible for his or her acts pursuant to the Penal Code. However, several protective measures have been established for minors to ensure their welfare during the period of pre-trial procedure and in cases when they are sentenced to a custodial institution. For example, an exemption applicable to minors includes arrangements to enable them to comply with the obligation to attend school.

    In criminal procedure there are specifications concerning hearing of witnesses who are minors (Code of Criminal Procedure § 290) – the minor of less than 14 years shall be heard in the presence of a child protection official, social worker or psychologist who may question the witness with the permission of the judge. The body conducting the proceeding may involve a child protection official, social worker or psychologist in the hearing of a minor over 14 years of age.

    Juvenile offences and also minor deviations from social regulations are processed primarily on the basis of the Juvenile Sanctions Act. A juvenile who does not fulfil the obligation to attend school, loiters or steals is referred to a juvenile committee by the school, local government or frequently also by the prosecutor who uses the right to discipline a minor through the juvenile committee. The purpose of the Juvenile Sanctions Act is to influence and support the juveniles without application of stricter penal measures. In addition to milder sanctions, such as sanctions concerning organisation of study, conciliation, obligation to live with a parent or guardian, warning, community service, etc., the Act also provides as an extreme measure for a possibility to file a court application for sending the minor to a school for students with special needs. The latter is a special sanction, which the court may impose for one year and thereafter extend for one more year subject to the submission of a respective application.

    The improvement of the juvenile justice system is under the attention of the decision makers and the government, but unfortunately the restorative justice system of Estonia is not in this stage yet. Restorative Justice principles are recognized in the criminal law system, which means that there is a possibility to terminate criminal proceedings on the basis of conciliation in the Code of Criminal Procedure an also to use mediation by the Juvenile Sanctions Act.

    Broadly restorative justice principles are used in justice system, mainly through the victim support services and mediation. These services don’t have the specifications regards juveniles. Since 2003 Victim Support Act provides the bases for state organisation of victim support, organisation of conciliation service, compensation of the cost of the psychological care paid within the framework of provision of victim support services and the procedure for payment of state compensation to victims of crime (hereinafter compensation).

    In the beginning of 2007 the mediation in criminal procedure came into force and in 2008 there were already 109 cases of mediation. In 2007 the total number of mediation cases was 3 times less than in 2008 and in majority it was used in threat and physical abuse cases. If a person with regard to whom criminal proceedings have been terminated fails to perform the obligations of mediation imposed on him or her, the court, at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, shall resume the criminal proceedings by an order (Code of Criminal Procedure § 203¹). We have had this kind of cases once in 2 years, so there is possible to conclude that mediation has started to work in Estonia. It is possible to terminate the criminal proceeding and to start mediation if the there is no public interest in the continuation of the criminal proceedings and the suspect or the accused has reconciled with the victim. Termination of criminal proceedings and mediation is for example not permitted in criminal offences committed by an adult person against a victim who is a minor and if the criminal offence resulted in the death of a person. Mediation can be applied by Prosecutor’s Office or by court.

    In the beginning of 2009 there was finished the analysis done by Ministry of Justice regards the mediation and the results show, that in 90% of the cases the mediation is used in violent crime cases. This is quite understandable result, because in most of these cases the offender and the victim know each other and mostly the cases start from the fights and arguments where none of the part knows who started to fight. If the case is raised inside of the families, then both parts are open-minded about the mediation as the result of the case. The analysis did show that not only the cases of violent crimes where the parts know each other terminate in mediation, but there are also the cases, where the parts in criminal case are strangers to each other. One important part of the mediation process is the compensation of damages to the victim, so if most of the mediation cases are based on violent crimes, then there can be one of the obligations to the offender not to consume alcohol, to pay the depths, to avoid act violent physically or mentally, etc.

    Analysis showed that there are not so many juvenile mediation cases and this may be caused of the duration of the criminal procedure, it will be longer if the mediation is meant for juveniles. In general terms mediation should also be more widely used in the conflict situations in schools (for example in bulling cases). Nowadays there are not enough practical experiences of this field, but as for the future it should be one of the places mediation should take place more.

    Much wider problem in Estonia is that the principles of the restorative justice should be more widely used in general as they are at the moment. From the interviews of the research of the efficacy of the juvenile punishments it was seen, that the specialists see the need for restorative justice principles in community service, also the young person, who has committed the crime should feel reintegrative shaming.

    As the restorative justice principles are more widely discussed among different specialist in the field, then we can hope that these principles will be the part of the new guidelines for criminal policy from 2011 as well as in the development plan for reducing juvenile crime starting the year of 2010.

    For the conclusion we may say that in restorative justice area we have a lot to learn and to put into practice, but the start has been done. Regards the juvenile justice system there exists the understanding that juveniles have to be treated differently from the adults and all the peculiarities of the age are taken into account.


    [1] Guidelines for Development of Criminal Policy until 2010,

    [2] Minister of Justice and the Minister of Internal Affairs agreed on common priorities of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Police, raksts

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