Access to justice for trafficked persons

Access to an effective legal remedy and compensation by a court is an important aspect of redressing the human rights violations endured by trafficked people.

The term ‘access to justice’ traditionally refers to opening up the formal systems and structures of the law to disadvantaged groups in society. This includes removing legal and financial barriers, but also social barriers such as language, lack of knowledge of legal rights, and intimidation by the law and legal institutions.

Access to justice has thus, two dimensions: procedural access (having a fair hearing before a tribunal) and also substantive justice (to receive a fair and just remedy for a violation of one's rights). It is also refers not only to the courts, but also to civil and administrative processes such as an immigration review or state compensation funds. Further, protection of rights must continue through all stages of the legal process, from the time of reporting a crime to the police, to ensuring that the compensation order is enforced.

The right to access effective legal remedies including compensation for trafficking people is dealt with for the first time in a regional legally binding instrument in article 15 of the Council of Europe Convention.

A 2006 questionnaire on Access to Justice by GAATW found that the most highly rated obstacle to access to justice around the world was a lack of knowledge of legal rights. Clearly not enough is being done to make legal remedies known and understood by trafficked persons.
Other obstacles given a high rating were:

  1. Delays in the legal process or the length of time a case takes to reach conclusion.
  2. Inadequate witness protection services.
  3. Lack of willingness or hesitance from the trafficked person him/herself to go ahead with a case.

Obtaining justice could be an essential step to claiming back life, but that the choice to seek justice should be the trafficked person's alone. Many trafficked people choose not to press charges which should be respected.
The majority of trafficked persons do not enjoy their right to access the justice system. Problems with identification and poor legal knowledge mean that most of them never become aware of their rights. Even if they do, a lack of training and resources to police, poor prosecutions, weak legal systems, discrimination and many other factors make bringing trafficking cases to court a long and arduous road.

Another vital element that fosters access to justice is the creation of strong linkages between all actors involved. Thus, networking within and between NGOs and law enforcements, both nationally and internationally, is essential to improving access to justice for trafficked persons.