The European Council has adopted a directive aimed at combating human trafficking. The new rules will define criminal offences, outline the minimum sanctions to be imposed on those engaging in human trafficking, aid  the prevention of the crime being committed and the include rules to protect victims of trafficking.

Apart from Denmark and the UK, who have opted out of the directive, all member states have been given 2 years to transpose the directive, thus it should be in place by March 2013.

Definition and punishment

The definition of those offences considered as human trafficking will be widened by the new law. Thus instigating, aiding, abetting or the sheer attempt to commit such an offence will be punishable.  There will be at least 5 years imprisonment for those who may commit such an offence furthered to 10 years in worse circumstances for example when the offence is committed against a more vulnerable member of society such as a child. Member states will be obliged to both investigate and prosecute individuals who have committed such an offence in whole or in part within its jurisdiction. A national of that member state must also be punished in that member state regardless of where the crime was committed.

Victim support

Victims of human trafficking, according to the new rules, will not be punished for any involvement in crimes they may have been compelled to commit. To facilitate victims in their ability to attend criminal proceedings and exercise their rights; member states must offer them support before, during and after those proceedings for example by providing access to legal counselling and legal representation. Child victims would receive further assistance in the form of psycho-social assistance and/or physical assistance.

Preventative measures

Member states would be cautioned to raise awareness, increase research on the issue of human trafficking and promote regular training for officials likely to come into contact with a victim of human trafficking. The EU may also in the future hire an Anti-trafficking Coordinator who would provide bi-annual reports to the Council and European Parliament. 

Lisbon Treaty

This is one of the first pieces of criminal law to be adopted under the ordinary legislative decision making procedure decision outlined in the Lisbon Treaty. This procedure is based on the principle of parity and aims to ensure that neither of the two decision-making bodies (the European Parliament and the Council) can adopt legislation alone without the agreement of the other.  Previously, legislation in criminal law was decided unanimously by the Council following mere consultation of the Parliament.