POLICING AND JUVENILES
As mentioned in the historical introduction, due to the complex state structure of Belgium, and hence the need to find political compromises, a fundamental reform of the Youth Protection Act of 1965 has not been achieved (Brolet and Dumortier 2004). This means that the “old” Youth Protection Act and the traditional actors and procedures involved in juvenile justice highly remain the same. In this way, when a juvenile has committed or is alleged to have committed a criminal offence, three levels of interventions remain fundamental: (1) the police, (2) the public prosecutor and (3) the juvenile’s judge.
On the level of the police authorities, the new Youth Protection Act of 2006 does not foresee anything new. According to law, the police act under the authority of the public prosecutor, to whom they have to report all crimes. In theory the police cannot decide to withdraw charges, nor do they have any autonomous competence to respond to acts of juvenile delinquency. In practice, however, they often give unofficial warnings (cautions) and may also require juveniles to participate in educational training such as traffic courses or to make restitution for minor damages (Van Dijk et al. 2006) (see also below, section “Diversion and Alternative Sanctions for Juveniles”).
Though the new Youth Protection Act of 2006 was not innovative on the level of the police, European case law and, more specifically, the Salduz v. Turkey judgment (Eur. Court of Human Rights, 27 November 2008) obliged the federal state to adjust its legislation and foresee the right to legal assistance to all suspects (of crimes of a certain seriousness) from the first police interrogation on (“Wet consultatie- en bijstandsrecht”, 2011). For suspects who have not yet reached the age of criminal liability, this Belgian Act of 2011 foresees a mandatory right to legal assistance, which, as contrasted to US legislation, cannot be waived.