Court guidance on human trafficking victims

Posted: 21st June 2013

In giving guidance to criminal courts on the correct treatment of human trafficking victims who are forced into crime, the Court of Appeal has upheld four conviction challenges and emphasised that criminal proceedings against such people may often be viewed as an abuse of court process.

RCJThe unconnected cases involved three children and one adult who were trafficked and pressurised into offending by criminals who escaped justice. Describing human trafficking as a ‘vile trade’, the Court noted that its victims, frequently from abroad, are often forced into prostitution, cannabis farming or other forms of crime.

Underlining that all such people, whether trafficked from home or overseas, must be treated as victims of crime, the Court noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions was shortly to reconsider his present guidance on the exercise of the prosecutorial discretion in relation to victims of trafficking.

Whilst not suggesting that trafficking victims are entitled to ‘some kind of immunity’ from prosecution, or that trafficking by itself amounts to a substantive defence, the Court noted that investigations involving such people have to be approached with the greatest sensitivity and the level of any culpability carefully analysed. There were many cases where no realistic alternative was available to the exploited victim but to comply with the dominant force of another individual or individuals.

Urging investigating and prosecuting authorities, the legal professions and the courts to be vigilant to the potential difficulties to which cases involving victims of trafficking can give rise, the Court quashed all four convictions on the basis that, had the full facts been known at the time, abuse of process arguments would have been likely to succeed.