We have the strongest legal framework in the world, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which came into force in July last year. The Law Officers are supporting the Prime Minister’s taskforce on modern slavery, and the Crown Prosecution Service continues to see a year-on-year increase in the numbers of prosecutions.
One of the main areas of modern slavery that we are uncovering in Lancashire is the trafficking and subsequent sexual exploitation of women. Often these victims will not come forward because they are being controlled through fear and violence. What more can my hon. and learned Friend do to support vulnerable women through the process?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. The CPS has been instrumental in developing special measures to help people with vulnerabilities to give evidence, such as the pre-recording of cross-examination, ground rules hearings that are held ahead of the trial in order to avoid inappropriate questions, and evidence via remote link. All such measures help to increase confidence that support will be there for victims.
I note my hon. Friend’s interest as a north-west MP, and I am happy to tell her that under the new modern slavery offence, eight charges were laid in the north-west region and eight offences in the Mersey-Cheshire region, plus other offences under older legislation, in the past year. Only last month three people were convicted of modern-day slavery and human trafficking in Liverpool and were sentenced to a total of seven years and three months’ imprisonment.
Many of the prosecutions were the result of the European arrest warrant playing an important part. Will the Solicitor General, with the Home Office, ensure that the European arrest warrant remains a useful tool, whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to note the huge importance of the European arrest warrant in streamlining the process. That, together with other tools to encourage close co-operation not only between countries in the EU but more widely abroad, is a vital means by which we can deal with what is an international crime.
The Modern Slavery Act review published a few months ago noted that although it is national Crown Prosecution Service policy that all trafficking and exploitation cases be referred to the complex casework unit, in practice the policy is not always followed. What subsequent measures have been put in place to reduce the number of cases that could slip through the cracks in that way?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that important review, which I am glad to say is forming a key part of the Prime Minister’s taskforce. At all levels, proper emphasis is being placed on the serious nature of this type of offending. Let us not forget that other types of offence that encompass such behaviour need to be dealt with as well, so the complex case unit has a key and increasingly important role in the prosecution of such crime.
My hon. Friend is right to say that these are challenging offences. The problem is that very often the victims of this type of crime take a while to realise that they are in that position. When they come forward, they want a consistent approach from the authorities that gives them support when they come to give evidence. That is the emphasis of the CPS and other agencies, and with that increasing support we are seeing those barriers increasingly being removed.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The independent review commissioned by the Prime Minister that the Solicitor General has referred to expressed concern about the insufficient quality and quantity of intelligence at national, regional and international level, which it is said hampers our operational response. What steps does the Solicitor General think can be taken to ensure that our exit from the European Union does not further hamper our operational response?
May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place at what is a very challenging time for his family? We give him our very best wishes.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about international working. He will be glad to know that the taskforce, in the form of the National Crime Agency and the other agencies, is placing heavy emphasis on the need to improve that intelligence gathering. When our exit from the EU happens, I firmly believe there will be mechanisms in place to ensure that that important work carries on unimpeded, whether by way of mutual legal assistance or some of the other mechanisms we have opted into, which will no doubt be an important part of the negotiation in the months ahead.
I am very grateful to the Solicitor General for his kind words and good wishes to my family at this time.
The Solicitor General has set out that our membership of the European Union gives us access to a toolkit, including the European arrest warrant, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), and which the Director of Public Prosecutions referred to as absolutely vital. However, there is also access to agencies such as Eurojust, where we have one of the busiest desks. What will the Solicitor General do to ensure that we quickly negotiate a new relationship with Eurojust, rather than ending up in Switzerland’s position, where the negotiation took seven years?
The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise other mechanisms. Eurojust and the European investigation order are other mechanisms that may be relevant. Clearly, they have to form a central part of any negotiation and be a priority for the negotiating team when it comes to the details. As he knows, the CPS is well aware of this issue and has been raising it, and the Law Officers will, of course, play their part in raising these important issues.