Tuesday, 7 December 2010

EUCFR, child-friendly justice and consumer law

Today, it is exactly 10 years ago that the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission solemnly proclaimed the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (EUCFR). Commissioner Viviane Reding commemorated this fact in a speech she gave this morning at the 'Fundamental Rights Conference 2010: Ensuring Justice and Protection for all Children'.

Reding emphasised the importance of the Charter for ensuring the compliance of EU legislation with the rights laid down in the now-binding document:

'This means in particular that rigorous and systematic assessment of the fundamental rights impact of new legislative proposals is crucial. For this purpose, the Commission has developed a special methodology, which is reinforced now by a "
fundamental rights check list", which the Commission services will use to identify and evaluate the effect of policy options on fundamental rights. This analysis can therefore better inform policy makers throughout the EU legislative process of the way fundamental rights can be affected and lead to a stronger legal grounding of the final act.'

From the consumer law perspective, it may be expected that future initiatives in this field, such as an optional instrument for European Contract Law, will likewise be assessed in light of this 'check list'.

Furthermore, Reding considered:

'The Charter explicitly recognises children as citizens with their own rights. This recognition is essential towards seeing children not just as in need of protection but also as independent and autonomous holders of rights. The Lisbon Treaty is a remarkable step forward in this respect.'

In light of the broader European contract law debate, the protection of children's rights and autonomy seems to be of special importance in the digital context (on which an earlier post appeared on this blog). Many consumers of digital content products, such as ringtones, music and movies, are minors. This raises the question to what extent an optional instrument should explicitly regulate their interests.

From another point of view, finally, it may be asked to what extent European consumer law should take into account children's rights when assessing the validity of contracts: should it consider to be invalid contracts concerning the sale of products that were made by children (in developing countries)? A difficult topic, which one of our PhD researchers in Amsterdam is analysing (a working paper she prepared on this subject may be found here), and fundamentally engages the legal possibilities for (or law's limits to) fully 'ensuring child-friendly justice' within as well as across the European borders.

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