Modern Slavery Bill

Written evidence submitted by Christine Beddoe (MS 20)

Special Advisor on Children: Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill

Advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Former Director, ECPAT UK


1. The National Referral Mechanism was brought into action on 1 April 2009. In the 5 years to the end of March 2014 there have been 1,620 children referred to the NRM. This figure alone should be enough to create a seismic shift in the way the UK responds politically and institutionally to the organised criminal abuse of children. Unless something is done to radically improve the Modern Slavery Bill so that it becomes the norm to prosecute those who exploit children and not an aberration, the UK will unquestionably face another Rotherham type scandal that exposes failings where the perpetrators are not brought to justice because public authorities do nothing to challenge the culture of disbelief.

2. In the 3 months January – March 2014 there were 174 children referred to the NRM [1] . An increase in awareness of sexual exploitation has increased referrals however the Modern Slavery Bill Committee must pay close attention to the significant increase in the numbers of children being identified as victims who are getting younger and being used by organised criminal networks for labour exploitation and criminal exploitation on an unprecedented scale. Of the 174 children referred to the NRM between January – March 2014 68 children were referred for labour exploitation, (28 female/40 male) and 12 for domestic servitude. There were 6 children under 10 years of age referred to the NRM in this period and 26 children who were between the ages of 10-11 years old.

3. The Home Office is becoming numb to these figures and Ministers must be alive to the practice of ‘normalising’ child abuse statistics when officials are briefing them on Modern Slavery. A referral to the NRM does not mean the child is safe from the control of their trafficker and even just one child abused is one too many. Five years ago there would have been complete outrage in parliament if we spoke of 2 children a day being referred to the NRM, but that is now what we are seeing and the government have lost their way and are losing the battle against the criminals who exploit the most vulnerable in society. The Modern Slavery Bill must be a galvanising force for urgent action, the white knight of legislation, for both police and those that protect children on a daily basis. Sadly, the Modern Slavery Bill, as it was introduced, falls well short of the high standard we should expect for children.

4. In the Modern Slavery Bill Debate on 4 September 2014 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for the Home Department said to the Member for Rotherham " If she has examples of child exploitation within the context of Modern slavery, I ask her, please, to present them to us because we want to check that we are not leaving gaps in the legislation that could allow a serious criminal to find a loophole and escape prosecution." [2]

5. The Committee may be minded to ask the Minister to identify how many criminals have been prosecuted in relation to the 1620 children referred to the NRM in the past 5 years, and more specifically how many charges have been laid in relation to the 174 children identified between January and March this year and in particular the 80 cases of labour exploitation and domestic servitude.

6. It is sobering to note that there have been no cases prosecuted under Section 71 [Slavery, Servitude and Forced or Compulsory Labour] of the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009, where the victim was a child. [3]

New Clause 18 – Offence of child exploitation

7. There is an urgent need to have a criminal offence that works effectively to support, and not hinder the prosecution of those that exploit children. I fully endorse and welcome New Clause 18 for an offence of child exploitation.


8. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when making a decision to prosecute look at the evidential weaknesses of the case and they will stop cases going forward that do not meet the evidential threshold test.

9. In child trafficking cases it has become routine for the CPS and most recently the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to refer to a lack of evidence as the reason why cases involving children are not getting to court. In her evidence to the Modern Slavery Bill Committee the DPP said:

"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."––[Official Report, Modern Slavery Public Bill Committee 21 July 2014; c. 9, Q17.]

10. In my experience what happens on the ground is that police investigations particularly for cases involving labour exploitation, criminality and domestic servitude are routinely rejected by CPS on what they call evidential grounds because CPS believe there is insufficient evidence of coercion to put before the court or because the child is too young to recognise they are a victim. Where this happens once or twice, police investigators become reluctant to pursue other cases. In effect prosecuting lawyers believe that putting a child on the witness stand without coercive elements is too big a risk to the success of the case. This is perverse, because no child can consent to their own exploitation. The so-called CPS lack of evidence is not a lack of evidence of trafficking or exploitation it is a lack of evidence of threat, beatings and bruises that can be shown to the jury. The ripple effect of this interpretation of the CPS threshold test is that criminals are getting away with it and putting even more children’s lives in danger. Criminals who traffic children don’t stop at one child.

11. In a recent meeting with a senior police officer investigating organised criminal networks who traffic children, he said:

"Even though the law says there doesn’t have to be coercion because a child cannot consent to their own exploitation they [CPS] are not willing to prosecute without it. We had evidence of movement and evidence of exploitation. CPS threw the case out and there were no other criminal charges we could use so the criminals went free."

12. If the CPS has their hands tied because they are bound by the Evidential Test and the law as currently worded in Part 1 of the Modern Slavery Bill means they will continue to require police to demonstrate evidence of coercive elements, or for the child to stand up in court and say I am a victim, in order to get a realistic prospect of conviction then that is a major flaw in the Modern Slavery Bill. There must be an absolute assurance from Government that they are not carrying forward an anomaly where CPS will refuse to charge under Part 1 of the Bill where the victim is a child, or was a child at the time of commission of the offence, on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence of coercion.


13. This insidious trend of creating an image in the eyes of the law of "the perfect victim" has far reaching ramifications. Not only does it mean that case law won’t be developed but it leads investigators to pursue cases where there are physical signs of abuse, and potentially miss other children exploited within family or cultural groups. It creates a hierarchy of victimhood based on a warped concept of the ‘deserving’ and ‘less deserving’ victim. The Modern Slavery Bill must challenge current professional practice and make good law for children to have equal access to justice by creating a single offence of ‘child exploitation’.

14. Police know they must gather evidence on particular ‘points to prove’ when using the human trafficking legislation but until the law is changed so that it is unequivocal to the jury that it is a criminal offence to exploit a child- full stop - , whether or not the same person has been responsible for the transportation or movement of the child, then in all likelihood the police will be unable to bring these complex cases involving children to court. If this is so then then we will have failed in the Modern Slavery Bill.

September 2014

[1] National Crime Agency . National Referral Mechanism Statistics, Jan – March 2014

[2] Modern Slavery Bill Deb, 4 Sept 2014 c192

[3] HL Deb, 22 July 2014, c185W

Prepared 17th September 2014