The Council of Europe’s expert group on human trafficking (GRETA) has urged Malta to guarantee effective access to compensation for victims of trafficking and to take measures to ensure that human trafficking cases are investigated proactively and lead to effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions.

The calls were made in the latest evaluation of Malta’s implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

The group observed that since its last report,  Maltese legislation had been amended to increase the penalty for human trafficking, exclude from public procurement procedures companies involved in trafficking, and strengthen victims’ access to assistance. A new National Action Plan on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings, covering the period 2020-2023, was adopted.

But GRETA noted that all victims of trafficking in Malta have so far been represented by NGO lawyers who are funded through projects.

"GRETA considers that the Maltese authorities should heighten their efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking receive legal assistance and free legal aid at an early stage, including by putting in place a system through the Legal Aid Agency to identify lawyers who are qualified to provide legal aid to victims of trafficking," it said. 

It added that despite the possibilities existing in Maltese law to claim compensation, no victim of trafficking has ever been granted compensation in Malta, be it from the perpetrators or the state. The authorities were therefore urged to guarantee effective access to compensation for victims of trafficking, including by reviewing the eligibility criteria for state compensation and adding compensation to training programmes for judges and prosecutors.

The majority of prosecutions end in acquittal

GRETA said it was also concerned that the majority of prosecutions for human trafficking have resulted in acquittals and that criminal proceedings are very lengthy. It urged the Maltese authorities to ensure that human trafficking cases lead to effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions.

While commending efforts made to prevent and combat trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation, GRETA said it considered that the Maltese authorities should encourage law-enforcement officers, labour inspectors and other relevant actors to increase their outreach work to identify victims of trafficking.

The Maltese authorities should also take additional steps to proactively identify victims of trafficking by screening asylum seekers for indicators of trafficking upon or swiftly after their arrival. 

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