Can We Stop the Trafficking?

Oliver Heald QC MP

Friday 22nd November: This week it was reported that three women, held in slavery for thirty years, had walked free from an ‘ordinary house in an ordinary street’ in south London.

As the Home Office prepares to introduce a new Modern Slavery Bill, many will ask how, as the law stands, can traffickers be brought to justice? Oliver Heald, QC MP, the Solicitor General, explains that as well as continuing to work overseas, a wide range of legislation exists to prosecute traffickers in the UK:

The main offences of trafficking include the Sexual Offences Act 2003, Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. These offences attract maximum penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment on conviction and the first two are ‘life-style offences’ for the purposes of proceeds of crime, so the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) can deprive the defendant of the financial benefit that he or she has obtained from criminal conduct through a confiscation order.

Whenever prosecutors consider one of the trafficking offences they will also consider a wide range of violent and sexual offences that can be charged if the evidence obtained does not support offences of trafficking (or it was not in a form that is reliable and admissible in our courts). Sometimes these other, less complex offences, often with a similar or indeed greater maximum penalty – for example rape – may be able to be proved. The CPS flags all cases of human trafficking (including those which have begun as a human trafficking charge but then may proceed to prosecution on a different charge or result in a conviction for a different offence).

The CPS is taking a number of steps to improve their response to human traffickers: the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will hold a round table on human trafficking on 4th December for police and experts to strengthen investigations and prosecutions. This follows last month’s publication of final guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse by the DPP (the guidelines can be found here).

Human trafficking is a global issue. The UK takes the issue seriously and works internationally to properly create and apply domestic legislation. The Government has liaison magistrates and others around the world helping to build capacity in that area. We look at the international experience, and it is important to do so. Earlier this year, in April, new legislation came into force extending the territorial jurisdiction to enable the prosecution of cases of trafficking where victims have been trafficked anywhere in the world. The CPS and I are committed to bringing perpetrators to justice.

Human trafficking is also a local issue. A robust criminal justice response to all forms of this modern slavery is fundamental to our fight to eliminate trafficking. Next year, the Home Office will introduce a Modern Slavery Bill, and a new maximum life sentence for the worst cases of human trafficking is also planned. The Bill aims to consolidate into a single Act the offences for which today’s slave drivers are prosecuted. It will also aim to prevent human trafficking by disrupting, convicting and imprisoning the criminals involved. We cannot operate in a vacuum, either domestically or internationally. It is crucial that our continuing aim is to ensure there are no safe havens for traffickers and that their victims are fully and properly protected. This is as important globally as it is locally.

*Oliver Heald QC MP is Solicitor General. He will be contributing to Politeia’s 2014 Justice Series