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Human Trafficking

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2011

3. What plans the Crown Prosecution Service has to improve the effectiveness of prosecution policy in human trafficking cases. (42453)

The CPS keeps the effectiveness of prosecution policy and guidance to prosecutors on human trafficking under review, and updates them on a regular basis. The CPS will soon publish a new public policy statement on human trafficking to explain the prosecutor’s role in such cases and the approach taken by the CPS.

I thank the Solicitor-General for his answer. In June 2010 there were 139 convictions for human trafficking. Will he write to me with an updated figure for such convictions?

Will the Attorney-General meet the officers of the all-party group on human trafficking, because one thing we have learned is that there is a considerable problem in prosecuting human trafficking cases and prosecutors often decide to pursue a lesser offence as it is easier to get a conviction?

On the first point, both my right hon. and learned Friend and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the group at some mutually convenient time, and I look forward to doing so. On the second point, all successful prosecutions depend on bringing the available evidence to court. It is not only our policy, but that of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, that every assistance should be given to vulnerable witnesses, particularly those in cases of the sort that my hon. Friend describes, so that we can achieve prosecutions. We take this matter extremely seriously—indeed, I was in the Court of Appeal just before Christmas applying successfully to have an unduly lenient sentence increased.

But the Solicitor-General will be aware that often in human trafficking cases the victim is reluctant to give evidence or does not assist the progress of the case. Can he assure the House that in such cases, where the victim is more frightened of the police than she is of her abusers, the CPS is committed to carrying forward prosecutions wherever possible?

Yes, I can. The hon. Lady is perfectly right to say that many victims of human trafficking come from countries and jurisdictions where the police are seen as oppressors, rather than as assistants to the criminal justice system and to victims. However, the CPS and this country’s police forces are acutely aware of that and are sensitive to the needs of those traumatised victims. I can assure her that everything will be done to assist the prosecution of traffickers, with or without the evidence of the victim.

The Solicitor-General will be aware of the recent legal challenge to the Government threatened by the POPPY project, the organisation that supports victims of trafficking. It is based on the Ministry of Justice’s failure to consult and to publish an equality impact assessment on the proposed funding cuts, which the POPPY project claims breaches the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. Given the High Court’s recent damning verdict on the way in which the Department for Education cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme and given the Fawcett Society’s challenge relating to the disproportionate impact on women of the emergency Budget, will the Solicitor-General assure the House that Departments are aware of their duties to consult properly and consider rigorously equality impacts before decisions are made? Will he place a guidance note on the matter in the Library so that Parliament can better understand the obligations, thereby avoiding such abuses of power?

The hon. Lady’s first paragraph or so would be better directed at the relevant Departments—the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education—but the points that she makes will doubtless have been noted. On the later points, I will certainly consider what she has to say and see whether it is appropriate to put such a note in the Library.