Following the limited Department of Justice consultation on implementing the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive, the Northern Ireland Assembly is now considering two human trafficking offences as part of the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Bill which had its Second Stage debate on Tuesday (July 3). Although these two provisions are presented differently they actually have exactly the same effect as the very limited provisions introduced by the Westminster government to make England and Wales compliant when it amended the protection of Freedoms Bill back in January.
Lord Morrow told the Assembly that he has ‘major concerns’ about the limited scope of the trafficking offences in the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Bill. He warned Members that what is proposed falls short of proper implementation of the EU Trafficking Directive and does not ‘meet our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.’
Lord Morrrow went on to say that Northern Ireland has actually ‘fallen behind England and Wales, where new provisions on legal aid for trafficking victims have recently been introduced’ and he called for ‘a specific human trafficking Bill, the purpose of which would be to make Northern Ireland fully compliant with our international obligations’.
‘Rather than do the bare minimum, which is what the Bill that is before us requires, we should build on our proud tradition of standing against slavery and seize the opportunity to lead the way in the UK…I look forward to introducing a private Member’s Bill on human trafficking to fill in the gaps that are left in this Bill.’
Northern Ireland does not currently have specific legislation covering a number of the provisions in the Directive relating to the treatment of child victims of trafficking, who should receive special measures to protect, support and assist them for their long-term welfare. The right to legal advice and adequate protection for all victims (adults and children) during criminal investigations or proceedings should also be enshrined in law.
The Directive also requires member states to take measures to reduce trafficking; Lord Morrow’s Bill does this by addressing one of the main drivers for trafficking which is the demand for paid sex.
Almost all MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) speaking in the debate agreed that this would be a missed opportunity if more was not done to tackle modern-day slavery.
Dan Boucher, Director of Parliamentary Affairs at CARE said: ‘We are disappointed that the Criminal Justice Bill does not go far enough. By adopting a minimalist approach to implementing the EU directive, Northern Ireland is mimicking England and Wales and missing the opportunity to enact real change and address human trafficking effectively.’
Gordon McDade of CARE in Northern Ireland, continued: ‘We look forward to the publication of Lord Morrow’s Bill, The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) [Northern Ireland] Bill, and to the public consultation that will follow. The Bill provides the vehicle we need to make Northern Ireland compliant with the Directive in a fulsome rather than a minimalist manner. It will also enable Northern Ireland to lead the way within the UK in the fight to bring traffickers to justice and to support the victims of trafficking.’