Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Morrow right to keep driving trafficking Bill

Safer sex: Lord Morrow’s Bill would reduce the trafficking of people to work as prostitutes

There is a strong case for David Ford, the justice minister, to incorporate large chunks of Lord Morrow's Human Trafficking Bill into the Criminal Justice Bill which he is preparing.

Lord Morrow has complained that all the attention has focused on one contentious part of his Bill, which would make it an offence to pay for sex. This, he believes, would undermine the market for trafficked women to work in the sex industry.

The jury is out on that one - many believe it would merely drive the sex trade further underground. Since Lord Morrow does not intend to repeal the laws prohibiting soliciting on the street, or operating a brothel, there would be little incentive for prostitutes to give evidence against their clients.

We already have laws prohibiting paying for sex with someone who has been forced. Many legal experts believe that that is enough to cover the situation.

Others argue that the general law on prostitution should be liberalised, as it is in countries including Germany. Then an inspection regime could be put in place to prevent trafficked people being forced to work in the sex trade and enforce health checks to reduce the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

There are many other measures in Lord Morrow's Private Member's Bill which are well-researched. They could strengthen Mr Ford's legislation, which must ensure that Northern Ireland complies with the EU directive on human trafficking.

Lord Morrow decided to take up the trafficking issue after reading William Hague's biography of William Wilberforce, who successfully campaigned for the abolition of slavery more than a century ago. A single sentence from Wilberforce burnt itself into his mind: "You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know."

Lord Morrow didn't look the other way and he has now broadened his Bill to take in other forms of forced labour, for instance forced begging and work in the fishing, catering and mushroom industries. Properly thought-out powers would set down a marker for the future.

Encouraging trafficked people to collaborate with the authorities is a priority. Heavier sentences are needed for activities such as withholding workers passports, or plying them with drugs, which are strong indicators of forced labour.

That is in Lord Morrow's Bill, as are proposals to compensate victims of trafficking and provide support programmes for those who act as witnesses. Stormont cannot grant residency rights, but these measures would ease the fear of immediate deportation.

Victims would be allowed to stay here while they co-operated in prosecutions. They could apply for residency, or asylum and if they had to leave, they would have cash compensation afterwards.

Another barrier to collaboration is fear of prosecution and Lord Morrow wants to ensure that no prosecution is brought for an offence committed as a result of trafficking. Fear of coming forward may well disguise the extent of trafficking.

Lord Morrow has many solid proposals. Mr Ford should ensure that the best parts of his Private Member's Bill do eventually reach the statute book.

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