Special Dubai court to ease trafficking victims' ordeal

A three-judge panel at the Dubai Criminal Courts will exclusively tackle human trafficking cases in an effort to deliver justice more rapidly.

The complex nature of human trafficking cases means many victims are forced to remain in the country for long periods during the prosecution process rather than return to their home countries.
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DUBAI // A dedicated human trafficking court will open before the end of the year at the Dubai Criminal Courts.

The operation will exclusively review human trafficking cases twice a week and deliver quick verdicts to limit the time victims have to spend awaiting trials, officials said yesterday.

The key was balancing that against a suspect's right to a thorough defence, said Chief Justice Ahmed Ibrahim Saif of the Dubai Criminal Courts.

"Victims had to remain in the country throughout the investigation and prosecution period, which was a cause of distress for them due to their wanting to be repatriated," he said.

Sheltering the victims for these long periods incurred costs to the Government, he added.

"Lawyers will also be assigned to the defendants from their first hearings in this court to speed up the litigation process," he said.

The move comes after the creation of the specialised human trafficking prosecution unit at Dubai Public Prosecution and the anti-human trafficking unit at Dubai Police during the past three years.

"All human trafficking cases that have been referred to prosecutors since November 7 will be sent to this new court," he said.

A three-judge panel will oversee its operation.

Judge Fahmy Mounir Fahmy, a five-year veteran of the Dubai Criminal Courts, will preside along with Judge Dr Ali Galadari and Judge Mansoor al Awadi.

"Dubai Criminal Courts' most experienced panel has been placed to oversee the specialised human trafficking court," Justice Saif said. "They have a complete understanding of the sensitivity of such trials."

As part of the new court's procedures, the testimony of the victims will be heard first, he said.

"This will allow for the court to immediately cross-examine them and allow for them to be repatriated to their home countries quickly," Justice Saif said.

Legal professionals in Dubai welcomed the decision, but cited concerns.

"The set-up of a specialised human trafficking court is an important and good move to speed up the delivery of justice," said advocate Harun Tahlak, a criminal lawyer from Dubai Advocates and Legal Consultants.

"However, I hope this court will not allow for witness delays and present all the witnesses in one hearing to avoid delays, even if it has to issue warrants for their testimony."

Cases can take up to two years to reach a verdict because of their complexity.

Since the introduction of the federal human trafficking Law No 51 in 2006, the UAE registered a 330 per cent increase in cases between 2007 and 2009. According to statistics, 10 cases were registered nationwide in 2007, 20 in 2008 and 43 in 2009.

"Human trafficking cases have increased lately in the courts because they are organised crimes," said Dr Ali al Jarman, managing partner at Prestige Advocates law firm in Dubai.

Federal Law 51 was the first such law in the region, and Dubai's human trafficking court is the first such body in the Emirates.

The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking's (NCCHT) 2009 to 2010 annual report, which was released in May, described a "thriving global business that generates billions of dollars a year", with links to other organised crimes such as drug smuggling. "For the majority of trafficked persons, it is only when they arrive in the UAE that they realise that the work they are promised does not exist and they are forced instead to get employment in jobs or conditions to which they did not give their consent," the report stated.

According to the NCCHT, the majority of victims in the UAE are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, with many others ending up in forced labour.

In the past year, the UAE has also seen the first use of Law 51's special "organised gang" clause, which led to seven men being sentenced to life in prison in January after they were found guilty of trafficking more than a dozen women and forcing them into prostitution.

The number of cases in Dubai in 2009 was the highest in the nation, with 21, involving 36 victims and 63 defendants. There were 16 convictions, according to Federal Government reports.

"As an organised crime, human trafficking trials usually involve a lot of victims, defendants and witnesses, resulting in prolonged litigations," Dr al Jarman said.

"The introduction of a specialised court in Dubai will help reduce detention and sheltering costs as well as also minimise the suffering that the victims have to go through."