An inspection of how the Criminal Justice System deals with Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland

Publication: 15/10/20
Hidden in plain sight: Tackling modern slavery and human trafficking in Northern Ireland

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has published its first in-depth assessment of how the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland deals with modern slavery and human trafficking.
 
The inspection report examined the work carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland (PPS) to investigate and prosecute cases of modern slavery and human trafficking, and how both organisations engaged with victims. 
 
Inspectors also looked at the Department of Justice strategies and policies linked to tackling this issue as well as the legislative framework.
 
“Modern slavery and human trafficking exploits men, women and children who are already vulnerable.  It may seem like something that doesn’t happen in our community, but it does and it’s happening now,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
 
“In 2019 there were 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking identified in the United Kingdom (UK) – an increase of 52% from the previous year – and 91 of these referrals were made in Northern Ireland.
 
“Victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are among the most vulnerable and traumatised in the criminal justice system. They are often terrified to speak out and seek help.
 
“These offences are often described as being ‘hidden in plain sight.’  They can involve people working on farms, in food production, at car washes, in nail bars, in domestic settings cleaning homes and providing childcare, as well as children who are trafficked across Northern Ireland for sexual exploitation,” said the Chief Inspector.
 
Inspectors found that excellent working relationships existed between specialist police officers working in the PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit and specialist prosecutors working in the PPS.
 
A well-established legislative and governance framework was in place across the UK with good links established between the PSNI and the National Crime Agency.
 
Inspectors also found the introduction of single points of contact within police Districts to provide support and guidance to local officers in response to this emerging crime area was an excellent initiative, with the potential for the role to be developed further.
 
“This inspection identified further work was required to better understand the nature and scale of modern slavery and human trafficking and develop a more effective legislative and strategic response.  Inspectors have made three strategic and eight operational recommendations to help deliver further improvement,” said the Chief Inspector.

“We have recommended that the full range of enforcement powers available elsewhere in the UK need to be replicated in Northern Ireland, and I am encouraged the Minister of Justice has already indicated her intention to consider the need for, and implications of, similar provisions in Northern Ireland, in the draft Modern Slavery Strategy for 2021-22, which will soon be issued for public consultation.
 
“We have also recommended that within the next six months, the PSNI should undertake and develop a revised strategic analysis of modern slavery and human trafficking as it affects Northern Ireland, taking into account the issues identified on this inspection report.
 
“This work will help the police to consider future demands on policing and inform planning to meet its investigative requirements and support victims effectively,” Ms Durkin explained.
 
Inspectors identified there needed to be a greater strategic focus on pursuing perpetrators of trafficking offences against children.  It was also important that frontline police officers understood modern slavery as child abuse and applied the appropriate child protection referral arrangements.
 
“In addition,” said the Chief Inspector, “we have also urged the DoJ to prioritise and consult on a legislative requirement that jury directions be given in modern slavery and human trafficking cases, to help juries consider court evidence in a more informed way.”
 
Ms Durkin said that at an operational level, Inspectors recommended the PSNI update its guidance on the use of interpreting and translation services to take account of victims’ ethnic, religious and cultural sensitives, and that additional training to support frontline police officers effectively respond to the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking, would be beneficial.
 
“We have also recommended that within the next six months the PPS should develop an action plan to improve how it instructs Counsel in modern slavery and human trafficking cases.”
 
While Ms Durkin said the inspection report focused on what criminal justice organisations were doing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in Northern Ireland, individually and as a community, we all had a part to play.
 
“Sunday 18 October is Anti-Slavery day across the UK.  A day to raise awareness about modern slavery and human trafficking.  A day when government, organisations, businesses and members of the public are asked to do what we can to address the problem.
 
“It’s vitally important we all know what modern slavery and human trafficking can look like and what to do about it when we see it,” she concluded.