Case BriefsInternational Courts

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): Chamber composed of Yonko Grozev, President, Tim Eicke, Faris Vehabović, Iulia Antoanella Motoc, Armen Harutyunyan, Pere Pastor Vilanova, Jolien Schukking, judges, and Andrea Tamietti, Section Registrar, first time had the occasion to address a case concerning the prosecution of a victim, or potential victim of trafficking.

Crux of the application was that the said applications concerned the prosecution of the (then) minor applicants who were recognised as trafficking victims for criminal offences connected to their work as gardeners in cannabis factories were

Applicant’s principal complaint is that by prosecuting them for criminal offences connected to their work in the cannabis factories the State failed in its duty to protect them as victims of trafficking.

Applicants relied upon Article 26 of the Anti-Trafficking Convention which required the Contracting States to provide for the possibility of not imposing penalties on victims of trafficking for their involvement in unlawful activities to the extent that they have been compelled to act as they did

Questions to be considered by the Court:

  • Whether, on the facts of the cases at hand, the respondent State complied with its positive obligations under Article 4 of the Convention?

Clear evidence appeared to indicate that the cultivation of cannabis plants was an activity commonly carried out by child trafficking victims. Court stated that the police and subsequently the CPS should have been aware of the existence of circumstances giving rise to a credible suspicion that the minors were trafficked.

Hence, a positive obligation to take operational measures to protect the applicants as potential victims of trafficking arose after the minors were discovered.

  • Whether State fulfilled its duty under Article 4 of the Convention to take operational measures to protect minors?

Bench stated that it is well-established that both national and transnational trafficking in human beings, irrespective of whether it is connected with organized crime, falls within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention.

Court made it clear that where an employer abuses his power or takes advantage of the vulnerability of his workers in order to exploit them, they do not offer themselves work voluntarily.

“…prior consent of the victim is not sufficient to exclude the characterisation of work as forced labour.” [Chowdhury v. Greece, No. 21884/15, § 96, 30 March 2017]

Obligation as per Article 4

Article 4 entails a specific positive obligation on the Member States to penalise and prosecute effectively any act aimed at maintaining a person in a situation of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour (Siliadin v. France, no. 73316/01, §§ 89 and 112, ECHR 2005-VII). In order to comply with this obligation, Member States are required to put in place a legislative and administrative framework to prevent and punish trafficking and to protect victims (see Rantsev, cited above, § 285).

Article 4 may, in certain circumstances, require a State to take operational measures to protect victims, or potential victims, of trafficking.

Court has considered it relevant that the Anti-Trafficking Convention calls on the Member States to adopt a range of measures to prevent trafficking and to protect the rights of victims. The preventive measures include measures to strengthen coordination at the national level between the various anti-trafficking bodies and to discourage the demand for all forms of exploitation of persons. Protection measures include facilitating the identification of victims by qualified persons and assisting victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery.

Summary of positive obligations under Article 4

(1) the duty to put in place a legislative and administrative framework to prohibit and punish trafficking;

(2) the duty, in certain circumstances, to take operational measures to protect victims, or potential victims, of trafficking; and

(3) a procedural obligation to investigate situations of potential trafficking.

“…prosecution of victims, or potential victims, of trafficking may, in certain circumstances, be at odds with the State’s duty to take operational measures to protect them where they are aware, or ought to be aware, of circumstances giving rise to a credible suspicion that an individual has been trafficked.”

In Court’s opinion, the duty to take operational measures under Article 4 of the Convention has two principal aims:

  • to protect the victim of trafficking from further harm; and
  • to facilitate his or her recovery.

In order for the prosecution of a victim or potential victim of trafficking to demonstrate respect for the freedoms guaranteed by Article 4, his or her early identification is of paramount importance.

Court acknowledged the fact that as children are particularly vulnerable, the measures applied by the State to protect them against acts of violence falling within the scope of Articles 3 and 8 should be effective and include both reasonable steps to prevent ill-treatment of which the authorities had, or ought to have had, knowledge, and effective deterrence against such serious breaches of personal integrity.

Since, first applicant was discovered by police at a cannabis factory during the execution of a drug warrant, the authorities should have been alert to the possibility that he – and any other young persons discovered there – could be a victim of trafficking. Nevertheless, despite there not being any apparent doubt that he was a minor, neither the police nor the CPS referred him to one of the United Kingdom’s Competent Authorities for an assessment. Instead, he was charged with being concerned in the production of a controlled drug.

Second applicant claimed that the door was locked from the outside and he believed the factory was guarded; that he was not paid for his work; and that he might be killed if he stopped working.

In Court’s view the State did not fulfil its duty under Article 4 of the Convention to take operational measures to protect the first and second applicant either initially, as a potential victim of trafficking and subsequently, as a person recognised by the Competent Authority to be the victim of trafficking.

Applicant’s also complained that they were denied a fair trial within the meaning of Article 6 of the Convention.

To assess Whether there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the Court must answer the following questions:

first of all, did the failure to assess whether the applicants were the victims of trafficking before they were charged and convicted of drugs-related offences raise any issue under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;

secondly, did the applicants waive their rights under that Article by pleading guilty; and finally, were the proceedings as a whole fair?

Court expressed that although victims of trafficking are not immune from prosecution, an individual’s status as a victim of trafficking may affect whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and whether it is in the public interest to do so.

State cannot, therefore, rely on any failings by a legal representative or indeed by the failure of a defendant – especially a minor defendant – to tell the police or his legal representative that he was a victim of trafficking.

CPS 2009 guidance itself states, child victims of trafficking are a particularly vulnerable group who may not be aware that they have been trafficked, or who may be too afraid to disclose this information to the authorities Consequently, they cannot be required to self-identify or be penalised for failing to do so.

Did the applicants waive their rights under Article 6 of the Convention?

The applicants’ guilty pleas were undoubtedly “unequivocal” and as they were legally represented they were almost certainly made aware that there would be no examination of the merits of their cases if they pleaded guilty. However, in the absence of any assessment of whether they were trafficked and, if so, whether that fact could have any impact on their criminal liability, those pleas were not made “in full awareness of the facts”.

Court did not consider that the applicants waived their rights under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

Whether the fairness of the proceedings as a whole was prejudiced?

In respect of both applicants, the reasons given by the CPS for disagreeing with the Competent Authority were wholly inadequate. Insofar as any reasons were given, they were not consistent with the definition of trafficking contained in the Palermo Protocol and the Anti-Trafficking Convention.

Court did not consider that the appeal proceedings cured the defects in the proceedings which led to the applicant’s charging and eventual conviction.

Hence it was concluded that the proceedings as a whole could not be considered “fair”.

Conclusion

Court referred to its finding that there has been a violation of Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention on account of the failure of the respondent State to fulfil its positive obligations under Article 4 to take operational measures to protect the victims of trafficking.

The Court had no doubt that the applicants suffered distress on account of the criminal proceedings and faced certain obstacles on account of their criminal records. However, it must also bear in mind that the aforementioned violations were essentially procedural in nature and as such the Court has not had to consider the merits of the decisions to prosecute the applicants.

Therefore each of the applicants was granted a sum of EUR 25,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable.[V.C.L & A.N. v. The United Kingdom, Applications Nos. 77587 of 12 and 74603 of 12, decided on 5-07-2021]


The first applicant, who had been granted legal aid, was represented by Ms Philippa Southwell of Birds Solicitors, a law firm based in London.

The second applicant was represented by the AIRE Centre, a legal charity based in London, and by Professor P. Chandran, a Barrister based in London at 1 Pump Court Chambers.

The Government were represented by their Agent, Mr J. Gaughan of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: The Full Bench of Rajesh Bindal, C.J. (A), I. P. Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen, Subrata Talukdar, JJ., took upon a series of petitions which were filed in the matter pertaining to post-poll violence in the State of West Bengal.

On the last date of hearing, the Court had requested the Advocate General to apprise the Court about any designated e-mail id to enable the aggrieved persons to lodge their complaints online. It was on the allegation of the petitioners that they were not permitted to lodge complaints in the police station and in some cases they were unable to do so as that they had to run away from their places of residence. This information could not be furnished and more time has been sought to furnish the same.

The Court in the meantime directed that if any person has suffered on account of post-poll violence, he shall be at liberty to file complaint along with the supporting documents to the National Human Rights Commission, West Bengal Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Women and National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The same can be either by way of hard copy or online. The aforesaid commissions in turn will forward those complaints to the Director General of Police, West Bengal immediately.

[Anindya Sundar Das v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Cal 1637, decided on 18-05-2021]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Gujarat High Court: Paresh Upadhyay, J., while addressing a matter with regard to granting bail to the migrant workers who were locked in jails, stated that,

“instead of sending these labourers back to their hometown when they wished to go back due to no money, work and food, they were locked in jails.”

“These migrants are more the victims certainly not criminals.”

Present application was filed for regular bail. He was punishable for the offences under Sections 143, 144, 147, 148, 149, 186, 332, 333, 336, 337, 427 and 188 of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 135(1) of the Gujarat Police Act, Section 3 of Epidemic Act, 1897, Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act and Section 3(1) and 3(2)(e) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.

Advocates on behalf of the applicants submitted that  of the total 33 applicants, 32 are from the State of Jharkhand and one is from the State of West Bengal.

The stated applicants were migrant workers and in the new lockdown they were all without any work, money and food, thus under the said circumstances they wished to go back to their home which led to an untoward incident.

Since 18-05-2020, applicants are in jail.

“…fit case to exercise the discretion to release the applicants on bail, in exercise of powers under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.”

-High Court

Court noted that instead of sending the above-stated labourers back to their home towns when they were out of money, food and work, they were locked up in the jails.

In view of the above, bench said that,

Applicants are more the victims, certainly not the criminals. Thus, the said applicants immediately needs to be set free on furnishing person bond without any conditions.

Thus, the application has been allowed. [Ravi v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 930, decided on 23-06-2020]

COVID 19Hot Off The PressNews

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has issued a notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh after taking suo motu cognizance of media reports that the bodies of Auraiya road accident victims were being carried along with the injured migrant labourers in the same vehicle by the authorities on 16.05.2020. He has been asked to submit a detailed report in the matter within four weeks.

The report is expected to be comprehensive, giving the details of the action taken against the delinquent officers and relief/ rehabilitation provided to the victim migrant labourers and their families by the state authorities. The Commission would also like to know about the health status of the injured migrant labourers and status of their medical treatment.

Issuing the notice, the Commission, has also observed that it is indeed unethical and inhuman on the part of the authorities to put the dead bodies in the same vehicle in which the injured migrant labourers were asked to travel.

The injured persons had suffered not only physical injuries but they were also under tremendous trauma of the fatal accident and in that painful condition, they were forced to sit in the same vehicle where the bodies of the deceased were also kept.

The public servants failed to deal with the situation sensibly and acted in a cruel manner violating right to dignity of the poor labourers.

Reportedly, 26 migrant labourers lost life and more than 30 sustained injuries in the fatal accident when two trucks, one coming from Punjab and the other from Rajasthan, collided on the highway in Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh.

Later, as the photographs of the truck carrying the dead and the injured in the same truck went viral on social media, the authorities sensing the outrage transferred the dead bodies in the ambulance vehicles at Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh.


NHRC

[Press Release dt. 23-05-2020]

Kerala High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Hrishikesh Roy, CJ. and Jayasankaran Nambiar, J., framed suggestions with regard to fixing of compensation for flood-affected victims of the State of Kerala.

The writ petition by way of PIL was filed with regard to the absence of any specific and uniform criteria for ascertaining the adequate amount of compensation to be granted by the respondent to the flood-affected victims of the State. It has been highlighted that the Kerala State Legal Services Authority would act as a catalyst to this process by enhancing effective and equitable distribution of compensation among the victims.

The orders issued by the respondent under the Disaster Management Department marks for the preliminary compensation amount with respect to affected residential houses based on the level of inundation with respect to every individual house.

Henceforth the Court suggested that a uniform formula that takes into account such factors that are applicable in common to the different categories of persons must be applied. These factors shall include the level of inundation, the extent of holding of a person in that area and improvements made in the said holding etc. and shall be applied irrespective of nature of holding of the victim or his income level. The minimum compensation that was common to all victims shall be paid to the identified victim solely based on his claim presented with response to the published formula devoid of any further scrutiny as to its genuineness by the respondent. Further the victims shall be compensated with respect to their individual losses determined on case to case basis backed by a proof as to the amount of loss sustained by each victim and as a result it would ensure greater transparency with regard to this additional compensation plus the victims would be spared from running behind authorities for the same. Also, this additional compensation has to be decided to keep in consideration different categories of flood victims i.e. householders, businessman, farmers etc. based on nature and extent of the loss suffered by them.

Accordingly, the method to be adopted by the respondent in deciding the amount of compensation shall be submitted to the court within 10 days from the date of judgment.[P.K. Firoz v. State of Kerala, W.P (C) No. 29127 of 2018, order dated 04-09-2018]