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HOME OFFICE PREPARES NEW GROUND OVER TRAFFICKING LAWS

by on July 30, 2011

The UK’s Home Office ministers have announced they aim to complete a review of the dog’s dinner they’ve made of the nation’s human trafficking laws by the end of this year.

All has seemed relatively quiet on the Home Office front since the Tories took office, with New Labour’s flow of ‘legislative diarrhoea,’ as Chris Huhne famously put it, apparently stemmed and the hopeful restoration of at least some semblance of order, if not exactly law.

The fallout, however, continues, with even venerable judges finding great difficulty in sorting out which laws are in effect and which not, as in the tragi-comical case of David Shields, a rapist released because (said the Daily Mail) “the charge brought against him was for breaching a ‘sex offender order’ under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 – a provision which was superceded by the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which introduced Sopos.”

‘Sopos’ are ‘Sexual Offences Prevention Orders.’ As distinct from Sex Offender Orders. So Mr Shields, despite apparently being a “significant risk to female members of the public,” walks free courtesy of Home Office Rebranding Exercise Number whatever-it-was, all for the lack of a suitably timed Sexual Offences Prevention Orders Prevention Order.

I wish I was surprised. I’m not. I know no lawyers who would be in the least bit surprised. The deluge of criminal justice legislation since 1997 would be well beyond the scope of any system to cope. Speed readers lost track somewhere back in 2003 and are still catching up.

And it really has been of such appalling quality. Now I must confess that there are areas of the Judeo-Christian ethos which elude me, but the notion that new laws should be personally carved out on rocks and then hauled down from the summit of, say, Mount Snowden, by whatever Home Secretary is thinking of proposing them, seems to have a very great deal to commend it. There would be every reasonable hope that they would be as succinct as they would be rare, especially if they could be repealed with considerably greater ease.

If ten bullet points was enough for the Almighty, why can’t they suffice for the likes of Messrs Straw, Blunkett, Clarke, Reid, Smith, Johnson and May?

Turning from the Bible back to the very unholy mess that is UK human trafficking law, it would indeed begger the belief of the Almighty how the Home Office has achieved such a complete and utter mess, and it says little for our media that it has not only been so little publicised, but that the media itself has been so proactive in perpetuating the myths.

It was some time around the millennium that the global powers that be, including the UK, defined human trafficking in Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol. We did, of course, sign up to it.

Proper co-signatories with grown up legislatures then went away, cut and pasted the definition into their domestic laws, attached a nasty big penalty to anyone breaching it, and moved on, the job, insofar as the legislation’s concerned, done (enforcement, of course, is another matter). Examples include the USA, Ireland and most of Europe.

Not so in the UK, of course. The heart of the UK mistake seems to have lain in asking the Home Office to do something, instead of, well, just about any other group of people who live on this rock. Faced with the mammoth task of cutting and pasting, the Home Office freaked out. It presumably found the new legislation insufficiently diarrhetic.

For a start it decided to have two pieces of legislation – one for persons deemed to be sex trafficking and another for persons deemed trafficking people for anything else. It then twisted and utterly mangled the definition of sex trafficking until any semblance of the internationally agreed definition had truly vanished.

At the same time, the police, the media and the politicians have constantly portrayed sex trafficking by the international definition, thus we think of it as involving some form of force, coercion or fraud, pressurising young women into prostitution. And sometimes it is. But very often it is not.

For this is one of the distinctive qualities of the UK Sexual Offences Act 2003 definition - in the Home Office cock-up the volition of those involved – normally, but not always, women – is ignored. Well, they’re only women after all.

Thus if one knowingly drives a young lady to a brothel, it makes no difference whatsoever to the Home Office whether you’re holding a gun to her sobbing head as she sits petrified at the experience that lies ahead, or whether you’re going out of your way on her behalf gratis and fending off pleas from her to drive quicker because she’s running late and she might miss out on clients. You’re a sex trafficker either way, and Parliament will let you be locked up for 14 years.

If a willing sex worker, the young lady, incidentally, commits no offence even if the place is a brothel, as she of course has to play the role of victim – willing or not – and be duly deemed ‘rescued’ in order to bolster the self-images of MPs, the dinosaurs of the criminal justice system and various other do-gooders.

At the same time as imprisoning the innocent at considerable public cost, the HO manages to completely let off the hook many persons who are internationally defined sex traffickers.

It is concerned purely with those involved in arranging the transport of persons into, around and out of the country (irrespective, as we’ve seen, of whether those persons wish to be transported). Among the categories of internationally defined sex traffickers it ignores are those involved in transferring, harbouring or receiving people against their will if they are not involved in the transport process.

The peculiar and perverse nature of the Home Office ‘review’, however, is what stamps it as particularly British. According to the Guardian, we hear of a new and exciting Home Office rebranding exercise strategy:

The strategy recognises that there are some problems caused by the fact that trafficking for sexual exploitation is prosecuted under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act while labour trafficking comes under the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act which has a different standard of proof.

“While there have been successful prosecutions under both, there are some disparities which make the legislative framework less straightforward than it could be for prosecutors. In addition, the different levels of proof mean that it is more difficult to prosecute for labour exploitation,” says the new strategy.

In other words, the labour trafficking legislation has that annoying characteristic of requiring some evidence that someone has actually been, as the world understands it, trafficked, while the sexual trafficking legislation doesn’t, and it’s always easier to get convictions without that annoying and expensive chore of having to produce evidence that something of any consequence has actually occurred. So let’s muck around with the definition to get the numbers up and impress people with what a large number of ‘traffickers’ we’ve caught, rather than taking on the Herculean task of teaching first and second division civil servants how to cut and paste. My God, we’ll be requiring them to tie their own shoelaces next.

Back to the Grauniad and to its Home Affairs editor Alan Travis’s piece. It’s pretty obvious on the face of it that Alan prefers simple rewrites of Home Office press releases to a decent day’s work.

Only some 40 men have been prosecuted for the new offence of paying for sex with trafficked women since April last year, he tells us. Err, no Alan, sorry, the offence is not ‘paying for sex’ but arranging it, no money has to change hands, no sex has to take place and they do not have to be trafficked women but anyone – woman or not – who has been coerced.

But it’s the whole angle of the story that is unduly depressing: “The failure of police and prosecutors to enforce a law that criminalises men who pay for sex with trafficked women is jeopardising the attempt to tackle human trafficking into Britain.”

More spin than a centrifuge. And what a weird angle. For a start, it’s wrong to conflate all human trafficking with sex trafficking, which is what is being written about. Now these are 40 prosecutions, which is certainly not the same as 40 convictions, and the fact that only 40 cases could be found could be interpreted in other ways. A more obvious interpretation is that cases of coercion are a lot fewer and farer between than whoever took Alan to lunch would have us believe.

“..and that includes prosecutions of kerb crawlers,” says Alan. My guess is that it almost comprises prosecutions of kerb crawlers.

Here’s a different angle, which would have been at least as valid:

“The tendency of the media and the Home Office to alienate the hearts and minds of sex workers’ clients is jeopardising the attempt to tackle sex trafficking into Britain.”

Probably a lot truer. Might not get you as good a lunch, though.

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