Examination of Witnesses

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:32 pm ar 21 Gorffennaf 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Alison Saunders and Ian Cruxton gave evidence.

Q 1

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

We will now hear oral evidence from the Director of Public Prosecutions and from the National Crime Agency. Before calling the first hon. Member to ask a question, I remind all hon. Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and that we must stick to the timings in the programme motion that the Committee has agreed. For this session, we only have until 4 pm. Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Alison Saunders: I am Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ian Cruxton: I am Ian Cruxton, the director of the organised crime command for the National Crime Agency.

Q 2

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I want to start by referring back to the Joint Committee that looked at the original Bill and came up with a suggestion about the drafting of the offences. It talked about a hierarchy of offences that could be used when prosecuting. Ms Saunders, could you explain whether you think that that way of addressing the problem of modern slavery has any merit and why it was dismissed in the drafting of the Bill before us today?

Alison Saunders: One thing that we want to achieve is clarity around the law, the statutes and the offences, so that that is not just clear and easy to use for prosecutors but, in courts, clear and easy for both the judiciary and juries to understand. Our concern about the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee’s suggestion of six offences that overlap in a hierarchy is that that would make it extremely complicated. I think its intention was that prosecutors would almost use all six and leave it to a jury to decide, in order of seriousness, which one they would pick. That would be very confusing for the jury. We find that when we use alternatives, as we do sometimes now in different scenarios, that makes it confusing. You often find that everyone leans automatically towards an easy conclusion, which often is at the lower end, and you get issues with different pleas to different things. It makes it, we think, extremely confusing. We much prefer the clarity of the offences in the Bill as drafted by the Government.

Q 3

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

May I move on, then, to the way the clauses are drafted and, in particular, defining exploitation as a stand-alone offence? I am led to believe  that the drafting means that particular circumstances such as using children for begging, using children to get benefits or putting children on the street to steal would not be an offence, because of the exploitation linking with the trafficking. Can you explain that and say whether it is actually the case?

Alison Saunders: I think they probably would be covered; that is my view. In fact, the wording is quite wide underneath all three offences; I think deliberately so. It is about forcing people to perform the labour and forcing them to do things such as begging, so I think it probably would cover those scenarios. If it did not, there are already other offences that we can and do use for that in any event. I am not sure why it would be that they were not covered; sorry.

Q 4

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

From some of the written evidence that we have seen, there seems to be confusion about the number of offences that are actually on the face of the Bill—whether it is two or three. My reading of it is that exploitation is linked with human trafficking, so if there is no way of showing that someone has been trafficked, you cannot then move on to show that there is exploitation. For instance, if a child is begging on the street and you cannot show that a trafficking offence has been committed, you will not be able to make an offence of exploitation stand up. Have I got that right?

Alison Saunders: Yes, but under clause 1, where you have slavery, servitude or forced labour, if somebody is forcing them to beg, you might say that that could be forced labour or compulsory labour, or you may be able to do it under some other common-law offences and statutes that we have. I agree with you—I had not quite understood the question—that clause 3 refers back to clause 2, so there would have to be trafficking for that to happen.

Q 5

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

So those particular scenarios that I just mentioned would not be covered unless you could show that there had been trafficking?

Alison Saunders: Not under clause 2, but under clause 1.

Q 6

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Do you think you would be able to bring forward an offence under clause 1?

Alison Saunders: You might be able to. It is difficult to do it in isolation, because it depends on the circumstances. Clause 1 is not related to trafficking.

Q 7

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

With situations such as illegal adoption and miracle babies, how would you be able to make a case against people who were involved in that form of trafficking exploitation?

Alison Saunders: As we do at the moment, because that relates to immigration offences. For the “parents” or people who bring the child in as their own, we prosecute those people now as offences under immigration laws, and we will continue to do so. In relation to the people who produce the babies, we have not yet had any cases where we have been able to prosecute in this country because they tend to be abroad.

Q 8

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Are you saying that the Bill would not cover those particular circumstances?

Alison Saunders: No, because the child has not been brought in to be exploited or for forced labour or slavery. It has been brought in to be their child.

Q 9

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Where does the United Nations convention on the rights of the child fit in with all this? If a child is brought into this country for an illegal adoption, there are surely issues about the child’s rights that the Bill should deal with.

Alison Saunders: That is a slightly different scenario. We do prosecute those cases now, under immigration law, because they are bringing the child into this country unlawfully. What they are not doing—this is why it is not covered by the Bill—is bringing them in for forced labour or servitude, unless you can show circumstances where they are. But in the cases where we have prosecuted, they are not.

Q 10

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Why are there not separate offences in the Bill for children?

Alison Saunders: I did not draft the legislation—

Q 11

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Do you think there should be separate offences?

Alison Saunders: I do not think there should be. I think this legislation is clear. If you separated out offences into adults and children, it would make it more complicated because we know from the number of cases we prosecute that defining and identifying someone’s age is often extremely difficult. We have certainly prosecuted cases where we thought the offenders or, indeed, the victims were children and they turned out to be adults, and vice versa. Also, if you have continuing offences where a number of offences are committed at certain times throughout the life of the offender, it would be quite difficult for us to identify and pin down the dates if there is a difference between a child and an adult. There is no reason why the legislation does not apply to both. The age would be an aggravating feature. There is absolutely no need for it to be separated out; that would make it more complicated and more difficult to prosecute some of these offences.

Q 12

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Why do we have specific sexual offences relating to children? I think we have separate offences because we recognise that sexual exploitation and abuse of children can be far worse. In the evidence given to the Joint Committee when it was looking at the draft Bill, Lord Judge referred to the need to recognise that the level of abuse a child undergoes if exploited may be worse in some circumstances. Do you have any sympathy with that view?

Alison Saunders: It is a slightly different thing that we are looking at in relation to sex offences. We do prosecute those. We sometimes have the same difficulties, but it is a slightly different way of identifying the offending. With this, we tend to have offending over a period of time. It is covered entirely by the legislation and there are aggravating circumstances which mean the sentences would be greater if it was shown to be a child rather than an adult. I am not sure there would need to be a separation of offences. I think it would make it more complicated and far more difficult to prosecute.

Q 13

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Ceidwadwyr, Enfield, Southgate

The aim is to ensure more successful prosecutions for modern slavery. You make the case that this would be more acceptable in relation to the jury, but what about before the case gets to court? There are issues in trying  to ensure there is a prosecution in the first place. How will consolidating these offences and the way they are shaped to the Bill support getting the cases to court?

Alison Saunders: The consolidation of the offences makes it easier for prosecutors to understand the legislation and pick the offences. For us, a lot of it is around the evidence that we get that makes it difficult to prosecute the offences. It is about identifying who a victim is, what the circumstances are and getting the evidence, whether it be in this country or from abroad, which makes them more difficult to prosecute. Consolidating the offences may make it easier for us to flag them, for example. The numbers of cases we prosecute at the moment under human trafficking legislation look very low. That is partly because we do not flag them. We do not identify them properly, so having a single set of offences would help. It may not necessarily help the numbers, but it helps the identification and helps to give a true reflection of what is going on.

Ian Cruxton: Certainly in respect of the issues about acquiring the best evidence in these cases, it is difficult. Some victims do not accept that they have been exploited. Some are very vulnerable and would not necessarily acknowledge that fact. On occasions, they assess the very person who has exploited them to be a friend, supporting influence or somebody who may have taken them away from a difficult scenario elsewhere—potentially into another scenario that we would all acknowledge involved exploitation. There is a challenge of how we work with the victims to extract that information in a way that stands up to scrutiny in the courts and does not damage the victim further than they already have been.

Q 14

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Ceidwadwyr, Enfield, Southgate

What do you think will be the impact of a sentence of life imprisonment on prosecutions and on efforts to prevent and eradicate modern slavery?

Alison Saunders: I do not think that the sentence will particularly impact on the number of prosecutions because the sentence will be a matter for the court to impose. If the evidence is there, we will prosecute, no matter what that sentence is.

Ian Cruxton: From a law enforcement perspective, in similar cases where we have seen a move towards a life sentence, we have not seen a discernible difference in behaviour patterns. That is not something that we have automatically seen. However, it is acknowledged that there is a greater consequence from being caught so, on occasions, we see people who may work harder to evade knowledge and attention.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

I know it is a large room, but could the witnesses speak up a little?

Q 15

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

May I ask questions on two issues? First, Mr Cruxton, clause 13(3), which is about the enforcement powers in relation to ships, states:

“The authority of the Secretary of State is required before an enforcement officer may exercise Schedule 1 powers”.

Could you give an indication of how the relationship between the Secretary of State and the enforcement officer on the ground is going to work in practice?

Ian Cruxton: I will have to come back to you with a written update about how the specifics will work. Obviously, we see the move towards us being able to intervene on the high seas as an important part of the Bill, but I do not have access to the information on the specifics of how that will work and the interaction with the Secretary of State.

Q 16

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If the witness could formally submit a note, that would be helpful, because, at the moment, the Secretary of State’s authority is required before a ship in domestic or international waters can be examined for slavery or trafficking purposes. That may be bureaucracy or it may be a formality but I am interested in how that happens between a Secretary of State on a Saturday night at midnight and a ship in the channel or, potentially, off the African coast or in the Mediterranean, and how that is dealt with and the powers that you have. I would welcome some detailed information about that because it is important.

My second question is to both witnesses and relates to clause 23, which is about the slavery and trafficking risk orders. There is a power in the Bill to give, via the magistrates court, a chief officer of police, an immigration officer, or the director general of the National Crime Agency the power to apply for an order if that officer thinks that

“there is a risk that the defendant will commit a slavery or human trafficking offence”,

and that the order is necessary to protect persons generally. I am interested in what both the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Crime Agency think is the remit of not having evidence to prosecute, but having sufficient evidence to apply for an order. As I see it, there is no particular definition yet in the Bill of what that risk might be.

Alison Saunders: There are other examples of orders that can be taken as a sort of preventive method and, obviously, it is far better to prevent than to wait until an offence has been committed and then to prosecute. I rather anticipated that this was going to be for those scenarios where there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute. It was possibly for just before—or it should be before—an offence had been committed. The risk was there, the evidence or intelligence was there and therefore you could get an order to stop the offence being committed. It is similar to antisocial behaviour orders or forced marriage prevention orders and that is how I envisage that working. We would not be involved at that stage because there was not an offence to prosecute.

Ian Cruxton: We envisage that that would be utilised where there may be a particularly vulnerable victim who may not be in a position to have any form of corroborative information that would substantiate a prosecution, but where they may be incapable of sustaining the kind of pressure that might come from having to actually make a formal complaint in those circumstances—so where we think that there would be sufficient information in front of us for us to apply through the civil route for an order of this kind against an individual.

The only other thing to mention on this is that we were initially slightly circumspect about the introduction of these orders as we have serious crime prevention orders as part of the armoury of tools available for tackling serious and organised crime. However, those  orders only relate to organised crime groups so there have to be two or more individuals for that piece of legislation to be brought to bear. This order can be brought in those cases, particularly those cases around things like servitude, where there may be only a single perpetrator.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I support the general principle of that, but I am interested in what those circumstances would be because the challenge to that order in the magistrates court would be very specific. Perhaps you could think about submitting evidence about that because it is an area we will want to test in Committee.

Q 17

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Hazel Grove

The Joint Committee took a lot of evidence that suggested that there were gaps in the way that the existing offences were built up, and that prosecutions were often not proceeded with on that basis. You have suggested that what we have here is a recategorisation; cases would be more clearly identified, but there would not necessarily be more of them. Do you think more cases are desirable? The cases are slipping through so what needs to be done to ensure those are trapped?

Alison Saunders: I do not think that cases are slipping through because the legislation is not there to prosecute; I think cases may not be brought before the courts because we have not got the evidence and we have not got the complaints in the first instance. I think this will help because it makes it much clearer what the law is and consolidates it so it is easier for prosecutors to identify the legislation that they should be prosecuting under and flagging it. At the moment we have a number of cases where—we know the numbers of cases under trafficking law have gone up since its introduction—not everything is flagged that should be and we also know that we prosecute under different legislation. So we might prosecute under an assault offence, offence against a person, or we might prosecute under sexual offences depending on the circumstances of the case. I am not sure that that would necessarily change; it may do. I do think this will make it easier for everyone to know when we are prosecuting trafficking or exploitation offences. It makes it much clearer and easier for prosecutors, investigators and the courts to understand.

Q 18

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Hazel Grove

Are you satisfied that there are no gaps?

Alison Saunders: Yes, because I think the gaps are in relation to these incredibly difficult cases to bring forward. It is often very difficult to get victims to come forward. It is difficult when we have people who, even though we may think they are offenders, are victims, to get them to tell us that they are victims and give evidence about their traffickers or those who have exploited them. It is around being able to give us as many investigative tools as possible, so that we can get the evidence to bring before the courts. I think that this legislation makes it clearer and easier to put evidence before the courts.

Q 19

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Llafur, Rotherham

I have two questions. There is a 45-day period of reflection for victims, though obviously it can take months or years to charge and come to court. What measures are in the Bill to compel the witnesses to stay in the UK?

Alison Saunders: There is nothing in the Bill.

Q 20

Alison Saunders: We do work with victims to ensure that they have the ability to stay in this country if they want to. Victims leave the country in all sorts of cases. Again, it is about staying in contact with them and ensuring that we have the ability either to bring them back to the country or to have a video link. It may be right that they go back to wherever they want to and that we support them to give evidence via a video link or something like that, if that is the best way for them to do so. It would be difficult to put a provision in. I would be wary about a provision that said that they had to remain in this country.

Q 21

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Llafur, Rotherham

My second question is that I welcome the presumption of age in the Bill, but should there be a definition of what a child actually is? It seems unclear if the age is 16 or 18.

Alison Saunders: The legal definition is 18 and under. That is what we use in all legislation and for whether it goes into the youth court or adult court. I think that would be clear enough.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

This will probably be the last question, but we never know.

Q 22

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Dartford

May I ask a question of Mr Cruxton? It seems to me that one of the challenges for the National Crime Agency is going to be on the detection of crimes and the education of the law enforcement officers. What is your role in ensuring that there is maximum understanding of the powers that this Bill will give to law enforcement officers, to police, to ensure maximum detection of offences?

Ian Cruxton: First and foremost, it is important to understand the context that the National Crime Agency operates in. It has the responsibility in law for leading an efficient and effective response to serious and organised crime. The highest priorities, within the highest priority category, are those offences that relate to both human trafficking and modern slavery. We are already focusing our resources on that. Part of that infrastructure involves a number of multi-agency threat groups, one of which again focuses specifically on the challenges around organised immigration crime, modern slavery and human trafficking.

Within that there is a multi-stranded approach, including pursue elements, looking first and foremost at whether we can identify, arrest and prosecute offenders. There are other elements whereby we ensure that there is a full education process going out to law enforcement partners and other Government agencies. The section in which the UK Human Trafficking Centre sits within the organised crime command in the NCA also provides a tactical adviser service to the UK in respect of understanding whether they are identifying people who are potential victims of trafficking, and how to deal with those and get them into the national referral mechanism.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

Michael Connarty: 45 seconds for question and answer.

Q 23

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

The fact is that all we have done is pull together all the offences that already exist in other Acts. Quite  frankly, the record so far has been pretty abysmal in terms of prosecutions. What will be different under this Bill?

Alison Saunders: I believe that this Bill, because it does bring that together, makes it clearer, so you should see more prosecutions under this legislation. We have seen an increase in trafficking offences across the years since we have had legislation, but as I said it is not as much as we would like. A lot of action has been taken between both prosecution and law enforcement to look at how we increase the numbers. The Bill will encourage prosecutors to prosecute under these offences. We know that we prosecute under different offences that are not recorded as trafficking.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. I thank the witnesses on behalf of the Committee for their evidence.