– Analysis of judicial practice for 2016 –
Within its activities aimed at improving the status of victims of human trafficking, NGO ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action has been monitoring steadily the position of the human trafficking victims in court proceedings through annual analyses of the judicial practice in Serbia since 2011.
The analysis of court practice in this area, with a special focus on the position of victims of human trafficking and state of their rights in court proceedings, enables the monitoring and better understanding of changes in the implementation of the existing legal framework, the alignment of domestic legislation with international standards and the efficiency of the existing regulations.
The results of the analysis of judicial practice in 2016 show that victim-centred and rights-centred approach are still lacking in court proceedings; the judicial authorities still treat victims exclusively as the „sources“ of information about the crime. As in the previous year, it may be concluded that despite a certain progress and implemented education programmes, there is still a level of misunderstanding of the vulnerable position of the victims of human trafficking, which, along with lenient penal policy and the inability of victims to obtain compensation, calls into question the degree of the victims’ rights realization.
- In terms of duration of the first instance proceedings, the data indicates that during 2016 no significant progress has been achieved compared with the previous year. Thus, according to the analysis, it can be determined that 30% of the proceedings lasted longer than three years, as it was the case in 2015. The percentage of proceedings lasting up to a year has increased to 40% compared to the previous year, when the percentage was 26%. Although this data indicate to somewhat speedier proceedings, this is still far from the efficiency registered in 2014, when this percentage stood at as much as 60%. The period of decision-making by second instance courts remained unchanged compared to the previous year and was significantly shorter than in the period of 2011-2014.
- The duration of the proceedings before the first instance courts was analysed in relation to the time period from indictment to first instance judgment. According to this criterion, the maximum length of a court proceeding is five years and 9 months and the shortest 2 months; the average length of the proceedings was 2 years and 4 months. This does not differ significantly from 2015, except for the fact that the longest proceedings lasted 9 months longer.
- The protection of victim’s privacy, right to assistance, counselling, information, and safety of the victim is still far from being given priority in the court proceeding. From the analysis of court judgments, it can be concluded that the data on victims who in the majority of cases were exposed to sexual exploitation are still used in the proceedings and the public was excluded in insignificant number of cases. The right of the victim to information on rights, as well as to legal aid, still largely depends on the involvement and capacities of non-governmental organisations, such as ASTRA and the activities of the Centre for Human Trafficking Victims Protection.
- It is obvious that, as it was in the judgments analysed in the previous years, common practice in the majority of cases is that trafficked persons are questioned in public hearings in the presence of the defendants, despite the fact that there is an adequate legislative framework which offers a basis to avoid – or reduce to a minimum – secondary victimization of victims. The analysis of first-instance judgments reveals that out of 34 victims, only 6 were granted the status of especially vulnerable witness
- The information from the analysed judgments show that a significant number of victims had still been underage when the crime was committed (one third, that is, 33%) and that sexual exploitation (forced prostitution or other kind of sexual exploitation) as a form of human trafficking is still predominant. Sexual exploitation was determined in 19 cases.
- By comparing penal policy with the data from previous years, it may be concluded that the trend of decreasing percentage of over five-year prison sentences has continued. Thus, the percentage of such prison sentences in 2016 was the same as in 2015 – 11%, while in 2014 it accounted for 14% and in 2013 – 27%. The data from the analysed judgments for 2016 indicating that the prison sentences ranging between 3 and 5 years prevail (84%), whereby the prison sentence of 3-4 years accounts for as much as 63%, show that penal policy is inappropriately lenient and it has not changed in recent years. This is especially worrying having in mind that minimum sentence for human trafficking is 3 years and if the victim is a minor 5 years in prison.
As in the previous years, the court did not decide on victims’ compensation claims in criminal proceedings nor was any judgment passed in civil proceedings awarding the victim compensation.