Skip to main content

Human Trafficking

Volume 556: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2013

5. How many prosecutions for human trafficking there have been in the most recent period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. (135618)

The Crown Prosecution Service charged and prosecuted 64 cases where human trafficking was the main offence between 1 April 2012 and 2 January this year, and has prosecuted other human trafficking cases using other legislation. The CPS is working with law enforcement and other agencies to improve investigation and prosecution and to encourage victims.

Those figures sound a little better than the ones previously published that suggested to me that out of 25 European countries Britain had fewer prosecutions for human trafficking specifically than all bar Malta, Slovakia, Estonia and Finland. What effect does the Solicitor-General believe the relatively low level of prosecution for specific human trafficking offences has on the potential for future human traffickers?

Of course, it is very important that we prosecute cases of this kind, but I make the point to the hon. Lady that the figures I read out and which are often quoted relate to cases where human trafficking was the main offence, but quite often with human trafficking, as she will know, the main offence is a violent assault or a rape, and it is the more serious offences that are flagged. In another 111 cases, in addition to the 64 I mentioned, human trafficking was one of the offences, but the main offence was a rape or major conspiracy.

There have been relatively few prosecutions for human trafficking involving forced labour, compared with, say, sexual exploitation, although there have been major successes in my own county of Bedfordshire and, just before Christmas, in Gloucestershire. These forced labour exploiters often earn enormous sums of money. What can we do to take some of that money to help the police fund these complex and difficult investigations?

My hon. Friend will know of the Connors case, which was finally concluded yesterday —an appalling case involving vulnerable people being forced to work by the criminals concerned. It is important that we tackle these cases, but the main offence was introduced only in 2010 and related to events that occurred after that date, so we are very much at the early stage of bringing these cases to court. The Connors case is one of the first. An agreement has been reached with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, however, to refer cases to the police, and other steps are being taken to toughen up on internal trafficking.

Has the Solicitor-General had any indication of the number of cases where files were submitted and the decision was taken not to prosecute, or of the number of decisions that were based on concerns about the witness capacity of the victims?

I will look into that and am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not have the information here. The Crown Prosecution Service is anxious to prosecute in this area if the evidence is available. All too often it is difficult to obtain the quality of evidence from overseas that one would want in order to prosecute effectively. There is also the problem that victims need a great deal of support and encouragement. All these matters are being addressed, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman on his point.

I welcome what the Government are doing in this field—they are being very proactive—but does the Solicitor-General share my concern that there is a temptation for the Crown Prosecution Service to choose lesser charges for which it is easier to secure a conviction, such as immigration offences, which results in traffickers getting a lower sentence than if they had been prosecuted for human trafficking?

I would dispute that. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), many human trafficking cases involve other offences, which are often more serious. With sexual exploitation cases, where there are continual rapes and serious offences of that sort, it is right to charge for rape as the principal offence because it is more serious in some ways. I therefore do not accept that the Crown Prosecution Service is going for lower charges. This is a matter that we in the Attorney-General’s office keep under review.