Judgment II. ÚS 3626/13 - The right to effective investigation in cases of human trafficking

18 January 2016

On 16 December 2015 the Constitutional Court delivered a judgement concerning right to effective investigation in a human trafficking case. The Court held that if there is a possibility that human trafficking as an especially serious crime (or other especially serious crimes against personal liberty and human dignity) has been committed, the events in question must be subject to effective investigation. The Court held that the authorities involved in criminal proceedings failed to conduct effective investigation of the applicants’ criminal complaint, and therefore breached the applicants’ rights to an effective investigation stemming from Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (right to personal liberty, right not to be subjected to forced labour, right to human dignity) and from Article 4 (1, 2) and 5 (1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

More than 60 applicants (nationals of Slovakia, Romania and Vietnam) filed a criminal complaint alleging they had been victims of human trafficking and had been forced to work in a forest in remote areas where they lived in poor conditions without ever being paid. The applicants stated that the conduct of the investigation was chaotic and that the legal reasoning of the Police was limited to a single paragraph.

The Court held that the State organs have in fact refused to deal with the allegations of the applicants even though they had been demanding protection as victims of a serious criminal conduct. The Court also stated that the police violated principles of criminal law by focusing only on investigating a criminal offence of fraud while leaving behind much more serious crimes which were in question. Considering the international obligations of the Czech Republic, the Court considered that where there is a possibility that serious crimes against personal liberty and human dignity such as human trafficking have been committed, the events in question must be subject to effective investigation. The Court further emphasised that the duty of effective investigation is “only” a procedural obligation unrelated to the outcome of the investigation. It is not an obligation of result, but of means.