A NEW UK LAW* came into effect last April giving courts the right to close down brothels for three months – could it mean the end of safe havens for many of the nation’s 80,000 sex workers?
Before April 1, the courts had no power to close brothels unless there was evidence of their use as Class A drug dens (so-called crack houses), or they were causing a persistent nuisance to others.
Thus a new power was desperately needed to close brothels that weren’t annoying anyone. Whilst managers and owners of annoyance-free brothels could already be imprisoned for up to seven years, the new law now allows the premises themselves to be closed for up to three months to prevent any of the working girls taking over and continuing this irritating habit of not annoying anybody. It was a part of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 that came into effect, appropriately enough, on April Fools’ Day this year, and the Government that created it was thrown out just over a month later.
It’s mid-July now, and the new power appears to have been used six times – five of them in the Metropolitan Police area in Greater London and most recently in Preston, Lancashire.
In Preston, a brothel in Derby Street was also closed earlier this month – believed to be the first use of such an order outside London.
Both the Great West Road, Hounslow and the Preston cases seem to be linked to Chinese managers or occupiers, with allegations of immigration offences and threatened deportations.
None of the accounts of the proceedings suggest any of the orders to date have been opposed. Indeed, from the rush with which they went through, the courts seem to have merely rubber stamped them.
Few if any of the occupants were probably aware that the police and the courts are meant to work within Home Office guidance on the orders, which are downloadable here. (PDF).
The courts are obliged to bear these guidelines in mind when determining cases. Going through them, one wonders just how many boxes either the Met or Lancashire police could have ticked if pressed on the subject.
NOT, interestingly enough, section 55, which deals with brothel keeping.
Whether it is possible to make a living managing a brothel without causing, inciting or controlling prostitution probably has, and no doubt will, occupy a great deal of court time. Nevertheless, the absence of the brothel keeping offence from the list suggests Parliament distinguishes that offence from the others, which should weigh in favour of refusing an order. However, this also suggests an order could be made even though the premises are not a brothel ie if there was only one sex worker operating from them, so long as a qualifying offence has been committed.
Here’s some quotes from the rest of the guidance:
Proportionate use of these powers will help to ensure that they do not serve to undermine the trust between those working in brothels and the police. It is important that those in prostitution feel able to report abuse against them by clients without fear that it will result in the premises in which they work voluntarily, being closed without clear evidence of exploitation.
The guidance points out [2.6] that:
One urban area in England has developed a classification of brothels and has identified ‘risk brothels’ as premises where:
- Intelligence suggests that the premises are involved in trafficking issues.
- Intelligence suggests that workers at premises are subject to violence, imprisonment, abuse, overwork, exploitation etc.
- Intelligence suggests that those involved in the running of the brothel are dangerous, or pose a serious risk to either service providers or clients.
- Intelligence suggests that premises are involved in organised crime or other unlawful purposes – e.g. money laundering, drug supply etc.
- Service providers are under 18 years
- Evidence that young children are frequenting premises (e.g. children of service providers)
The clear implication is that if the premises don’t fall into any of those categories, they should not be in the frame for a closure order: “The power, therefore, is designed to target those premises where exploitation of this kind is taking place,” it says [2.7].
It also says that Orders “should only be pursued after the full range of appropriate interventions have been tried without success.” [Introduction]
They “should only be used as a last resort, where they are necessary to prevent criminal activity, where other interventions have been used or considered and rejected for good reason.” [Para 2.8]
Along with all this is enough procedural requirements to keep any half-decent lawyer going in a courtroom for weeks, concerning closure notices (which police have to issue before a closure order can be made) as well as the orders themselves.
Forty-three pages of police and court requirements! Yes, indeed, a must-have publication for brothel managers everywhere in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And free, courtesy of our wonderful Home Office! What would we do without them?
* This law does not apply in Scotland. ** Identical but differently titled legislation applies in Northern Ireland.