Clause 23 - Slavery and trafficking risk orders

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 9 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Brent Central 3:15, 9 Medi 2014

I have tabled amendment 87 to get some clarity from the Minister about the orders, and it picks up on some of the points that the right hon. Member for Delyn made about half an hour ago. Some of my questions about the evidential proof required were answered by the Minister’s earlier response, but I have others I would like to put to her.  My main concern is that such orders could be used as an alternative to prosecution and thereby drive down, rather than up, the number of prosecutions in this area. A lot of the Committee’s discussion thus far has been about the low rate of prosecutions—and, indeed, the low rate of convictions. I think everyone in the Committee is of one mind, and I know she is very determined that we should drive up prosecutions. However, I have some worries about how the clause has been drafted; it may not yield the desired results.

I have some concerns about the workability of the orders, which is something the Joint Committee focused on in its examination of the Bill. The key issue is that there is no connection with the criminal justice system; there is no need for prosecution or charge. I completely accept the difficulty of prosecution. The Minister will say that that is precisely why we need extra tools in the toolbox to protect victims, but there is a danger of that becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The key question for me is: under what circumstances would there be insufficient evidence to prosecute someone for what is a very serious offence—trafficking or slavery—and yet enough evidence for the court to deem a risk order necessary? She said to the right hon. Member for Delyn that the same evidential level of proof is required: a criminal level of proof. Will she clarify that?

In an earlier evidence session, the Magistrates Association stated:

“if there is not any evidence to lead to a prosecution, is there any evidence to lead to an STRO? Where is that line drawn? If it is at criminal proof, it is at a very high level—beyond reasonable doubt. There will need to be clarity about what the potential risk is and specific evidence that that risk is in danger of materialising.”

The question is whether, if different standards of proof are required, that will be a shortcut to avoid prosecution. If the same level of proof is required, I cannot quite see how we are going to meet the required evidence level to pursue the risk orders. We cannot seem to have one or the other. The worst possible scenario would be if we ended up with risk orders being used as a shortcut to avoid going to trial when we need to ensure that people are prosecuted and convicted.

I am certain that the Minister is on the same page as me and I hope she will reassure me with facts. The Government’s fact sheet on this part of the Bill says that the Government

“must be able to prevent very serious modern slavery offences where the risk is clear, but we cannot secure a criminal conviction for a previous offence.”.

The fact sheet notes that the police have said that risk orders will be useful to disrupt peripheral activity when the investigation is focused on core offenders. Finally, it mentions that risk orders could be useful where it is proven to be “difficult to prosecute” in instances where witnesses

“are unwilling to give evidence”.

The intention behind the amendment is to put that on the face of the Bill, so that it is a bit clearer on the circumstances in which such orders might be used.

These are significant powers—this picks up on the point that the right hon. Member for Delyn made. We need to know that they are used appropriately and to ensure that they are not used as a shortcut to avoid serious prosecution. I will not read out the amendment because Members are perfectly able to read it themselves. I am trying to ensure that we are absolutely clear about  what the orders are for, rather than allowing them to hamper what I think the Committee is in one mind in trying to achieve.