Convictions Quashed – Blog by Kay Wallace

NRM status can lead to successful appeal of convictions; even for convictions pre- 31st July 2015

 

Council of Europe Convention on Action against Human Trafficking.

The UK is a member of The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Human Trafficking, which came into force on 1 February 2008. The Convention sets out measures to protect and promote the rights of victims of trafficking which member States are obliged to implement.

 

National Referral Mechanism;

An essential part of the implementation of the Convention was that the UK set up the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a procedure for identifying victims of trafficking and providing necessary support.

 

Child Exploitation;

Referrals to the NRM should be for all potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery, who can be of any nationality, and may include British national children, such as those trafficked for child sexual exploitation or those trafficked as drug carriers internally in the UK (i.e. County Lines victims). Modern slavery, including child trafficking, is child abuse. A referral into the NRM does not replace or supersede established child protection processes, which should continue in tandem. All children, irrespective of their immigration status, are entitled to safeguarding and protection under the law.

 

Historic incidents of trafficking;

An individual who has been trafficked in the past can still be classed as a trafficked victim. Therefore, historic NRM applications can be made, and used in any subsequent appeal against historic criminal convictions.

As a result of the convention obligations, on 21stcJune 2013, three people (who were children at the time of their convictions), from Vietnam who were trafficked to the UK and forced to work for criminal gangs, had their criminal convictions overturned.

The children were arrested in 2011 after police raids on cannabis factories and later convicted of drug offences. The Court of Appeal overturned the convictions and issued guidance to courts about how potential trafficking victims should be treated by the criminal justice system. One of the children, now 18, told police he was “relieved to see them” when he was arrested at a house in Bristol where cannabis was being grown. The court found his criminal activities were “integral” to his status as a trafficked child. Another victim, 18 at the time, was caught tending to cannabis plants in Harrow in 2009 after escaping from the care of Kent County Council two years earlier. He was sentenced for two years in a young offenders’ institution. The third was sentenced to eight months’ detention after he was found barefoot by police near to a house full of cannabis plants. He admitted looking after the crop but said he did not know it was illegal.

 

Adult conviction overturned;

In a separate case, heard at the same time, a Ugandan woman in her mid-30s also had her conviction overturned. She had been sentenced to six months in prison in 2011 after pleading guilty to possessing a false passport. But the court heard she was suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder after “prolonged exposure to involuntary prostitution and enforced control” and that the passport offered her the prospect of escape. The CPS said its policy clearly stated that “very careful consideration” should be given before charges are brought against victims of trafficking. It added: “In light of the fresh evidence received in all of these cases the CPS did not resist these appeals. Had the evidence of trafficking been available at the time of the decision to prosecute the CPS would not have prosecuted.

The above two examples evidence how individuals are viewed in the first instance as criminals rather than victims of exploitation.

 

Mike Hand & Kay Wallace NWG