22nd November 2021
Letter sent to all MPs.
Modern Slavery - Please act to prevent an increase in crime, including child exploitation, in your area
You will soon be asked to vote again on the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bill’s focus is on changes to the asylum and immigration framework but it also proposes significant reform to modern slavery law and practice. This letter, from leading organisations in the Anti-Slavery sector, welcomes the Government’s stated commitment to tackle slavery but seeks to draw your attention to the Bill’s unintended negative consequences on victims of trafficking and slavery in its current form.
We welcome the Government’s recognition in its response to its consultation that it might need to modify elements of its immigration plan to avoid unintended repercussions and the Minister’s recent commitment during the Bill Committee to engage with the sector. It is our view that modern slavery and immigration are distinct matters and that the clauses within Part 5 of the Bill would be better more carefully considered in the current review of the Modern Slavery Strategy and removed from the bill because we fear this section will not achieve its aims in its current form. We have particular concerns that Part 5 will discourage identification and disclosure, and will harm the UK’s position as a world leader in tackling slavery and in child protection. We ask you to consider these consequences and ask for removal of Part 5 from the bill. In the event that Part 5 is not removed from the bill we would ask you to support the Anti-Slavery sector’s proposed amendments to Part 5, as outlined in a statement, to mitigate against these very real risks. We would also welcome meeting with you to discuss this further.
Unamended, the Bill penalises victims of slavery entering the UK if they don’t reveal they have been enslaved within a set period of time. It will also disqualify from support any victim of modern slavery who is considered to be a ‘threat to public order’. The stated justification for this is to prevent fraudulent or dangerous criminals from using experiences of exploitation to avoid justice or deportation and reduce delays but no data has been provided to evidence these claims or to show how the reforms will have this effect.
Victims of slavery often don’t self-identify or reveal their exploitation until trust has been garnered. Police, medical and even Conservative Party research evidences that it can take approximately 2 years for disclosure. Leading criminal barrister Caroline Haughey OBE QC, the UK’s lead prosecutor of modern slavery who helped draft the Modern Slavery Act, described the Nationality and Borders Bill as ‘catastrophic' because if an individual ‘does not show up as a victim immediately, they are deemed not a victim’.
The definition of threat to public order within the Bill casts a far wider net than intended. It would include victims of slavery convicted of minor offences such as damage to property, or even if offences were committed under duress in slavery. It will also include British and child victims. Yet as we know from Operation Fort (where police dismantled the UK’s biggest modern slavery network) traffickers directly targeted vulnerable men leaving prison. A person’s vulnerability to exploitation should not be used to deny them access to support.
The minister says the above concerns will be able to be resolved on a case by case basis. But we sadly know from experience that safeguarding requires clear procedures to avoid tragedy and we have a clear amendment which preserves the Government’s power to remove individuals from the UK who pose a genuine threat to national security or public safety, while not undermining the protections in the Modern Slavery Act.
In addition to immediate protection, we also need to provide long term support to victims if we want to end slavery in the UK. Prosecutions for modern slavery cases are extremely low and yet when victims are given long term support, they are more likely to act as witnesses, leading to more traffickers behind bars. 73% of victims supported by the charity Hope for Justice engaged with the criminal justice process, and all bar 2 cases that went to criminal trial ended with a successful conviction.
The Bill sends a message to traffickers that they are free to exploit people with uncertain or insecure immigration status, or criminal records, even for minor offences, or those committed under duress, as they’ll no longer qualify for help. Traffickers in county lines can say with confidence once they’ve forced a child to commit a crime, that there’s really no escape. That means more county lines cases and other child abuse and exploitation in your constituency.
The Bill will reduce the number of criminal prosecutions for trafficking offences as there is no incentive for victims trapped in criminal exploitation, or targeted by traffickers for old offences, from coming forward, and conversely this Bill would make it risky and precarious to come forward. Operation Fort would not have been able to get off the ground. That means more traffickers and hardened criminals in your constituency.
Rather than speed up the process, lawyers estimate the new Trafficking Information Notices will create further delays to an already complex and delayed system, which, in turn, will increase costs to the public purse.
Experts from the police to prosecutors state that despite the bill’s stated intentions to be “firm but fair”, it is unfair to victims of slavery, while making it easier for the perpetrators to get away with their crimes We urge you to support amendments to Part 5 of the Nationality & Borders Bill and would welcome an opportunity to discuss this further with you.
Over 100 CEOs of anti-slavery and human rights organisations,
including Arise Director, Luke de Pulford
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