Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Commission tells Court of Appeal child trafficking victim should not be prosecuted
The case follows the Human Trafficking Inquiry(1) it conducted in Scotland. This and the follow up report (2) identified concerns relating to the UK's compliance with the prohibition on slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour set out in Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights (3).
These included the low number of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers, despite it being a serious and growing problem in the UK. In 2011 it was thought to involve nearly 500 children. Minors are more likely to be prosecuted than traffickers for crimes committed whilst under their control.
In this case the boy, who can only be identified as T, was arrested by police at a house in England that had been converted into a cannabis factory. T said he was coerced into debt bondage after a man in Vietnam took the deeds to his parent’s home as collateral saying he owed 0,000.
T, who arrived in the back of a refrigerated lorry, was told he would come to the UK to study and pay off his debt by working in a restaurant. Once here he was forced by his agent to work in the factory.
Despite showing all of the signs of a trafficked child, and being referred by the police to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) (4), which aims to identify victims of trafficking, the Crown Prosecution Service went ahead with a prosecution. T was sentenced to 12 months in a Young Offenders Institution after eventually pleading guilty.
He started to self harm and was traumatised. The NSPCC referred him back to the NRM for a fresh decision. Following a positive outcome he was released into local authority care, but went missing two weeks later. It is suspected he is again under the control of traffickers and the case will be heard in his absence.
The Commission, which is intervening as an independent third party expert on human rights law, will say that, apart from any decision to prosecute, authorities are obliged to carry out a thorough investigation into allegations of trafficking. Any decision to prosecute should not be made until this duty to investigate has been met.
It will also say child victims of trafficking should be given support, assistance and protection and not further victimised, by being prosecuted, unless the circumstances are very exceptional and it is in the best interests of the child.
Commission deputy director, legal, Wendy Hewitt said:
“Trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery and one of the most serious human rights violations. It is the Commission’s view that the law in this area is piecemeal, despite it being a growing problem. This causes confusion amongst those who use it.
“If the outcome of T’s case is positive it will affect the way child victims of trafficking are dealt with by the criminal justice system.”
For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 0161 8298102, out of hours 07767 272 818.
Notes to Editors
R V TN Criminal Court of Appeal
- The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support.
- Article 26 of the Council of Europe Anti-trafficking Convention, which the UK has ratified, gives the state the discretion not to prosecute victims of trafficking where they have committed an offence whilst under the control of their trafficker. This Convention fleshes out how human rights articles are put into practice
- Article 8 of the 2011/36 EU Directive mirrors the Convention on this and was in effect as of 6 April 2013
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act and is recognised by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights Institute. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.