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UK BROTHEL CLOSURE ORDERS: guidance notes could limit damage

by on July 14, 2010
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.
This leaves the police just 774 to 1,194 brothel closures short of the annual estimate of closures made during the Bill’s passage. However, this was a Home Office estimate, so can’t be taken seriously.
First use – within a fortnight of the power coming into effect – was at a massage parlour in Botwell Lane, HayesThe following month saw the first of two closures to date in Hounslow, in Great West Road. The second was last month in Sutton LaneLondon’s East End was the locale of the fourth of the London closures, in Bethnal Green Road, while the fifth was in Wanstead High Street on July 2.
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.
Firstly, an order can only be imposed if the court is satisfied the premises have been used for one of a quite limited range of offences. These include those dealing with involvement of children in either prostitution or pornography, but apart from them, only causing or inciting prostitution for gain (section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003)**, or controlling prostitution for gain (section 53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003)** 
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.
Interestingly, the Sutton Lane, Hounslow, site had been the scene of an assault on a sex worker resulting in an arrest, so is this guidance being followed?
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.

  1. Xena permalink

    So for the Swedes it’s about their bridge, for the Brits it’s about that infamous Immigration system of theirs. Maybe I should say legendary. Some of the commenters on other sites make it sound as if P.D. James Children of Men wasn’t such a stretch.

  2. Richard permalink

    I just slightly wonder who pays the Council Tax / Business Rates on premises which have been “closed”? Why should the Council lose out, but, equally if the owner, tenant or “occupier” cannot enter the premises, can he (she) be held liable?

  3. Richard – very good question. You might pose it to your local council, I’d be interested in the reply. Other questions may also arise re any standing charges on gas, electricity and water.

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