A guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 - Chapter 5
5. Protection of Slavery and Trafficking Victims in Criminal Investigations and Proceedings under Part 4 of the Act (Sections 22-24)
In this chapter:
Section 22 of the Act provides a victim of a slavery or human trafficking offence under section 1 or 2 of the Act with a statutory defence to a wide range of criminal offences.
The conditions on which this defence is dependent differ as between adult victims and child victims.
For adult victims, the defence is available where:
- The victim is compelled to do the act which amounts to an offence,
- That compulsion is attributable to slavery or exploitation, and
- A reasonable person in the victim’s situation and with the same characteristics as the victim would have no realistic alternative to doing the act
When considering the victim’s characteristics in relation to this defence, their age, sex and any physical or mental illness or disability are relevant. The victim’s circumstances can also be taken into account when determining whether they were compelled to do the act which constitutes an offence.
However, compulsion must consist of, or be part of, conduct which constitutes exploitation or a direct consequence of the person having been or being a victim of slavery, servitude, forced labour or the categories of exploitation the Act specifies in relation to human trafficking.
For child victims, the defence offered by section 22 of the Act is wider than that offered to adult victims of slavery/human trafficking offences.
The requirements that enable a child victim to avail of the defence is that they were a child at the time of the act which constitutes a criminal offence and that act was a consequence of the child being a victim of a slavery or exploitation.
Exploitation is given the same meaning as the categories of exploitation under Section 3 of the Act.
There is a significant caveat to this provision, in that for victims over the age of 21, the defence does not apply to offences committed by victims where that offence is punishable with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment or more.
The only offences carrying a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment or more, in respect of which the defence is permitted, are:
- Production or being concerned in the production of Class B or C controlled substances
- Possession of a Class B or Class C controlled substance
- Cultivation of cannabis
- Copying or using a false instrument
- Making dishonest representations to immigration authorities
- Possession of false identity documents with improper intention
5.2 Protection of Victims of Slavery or Human Trafficking in criminal investigations (Sections 23 and 26)
When conducting an investigation of offences under the Act, investigating authorities have a statutory duty under section 23 of the Act to ensure that victims are not subject to secondary victimisation by avoiding:
- Unnecessary repetition of interviews
- Visual contact between the victim and the accused
- Unnecessary questioning in relation to the victim’s private life
There are additional requirements for child victims:
- To ensure interviews with the victim take place without unjustified delay
- Where necessary, to conduct interviews in premises designed or adapted for the purpose
- Where necessary, that interviews with the victim are carried out by or through persons trained to do so
- The same person conducts all interviews with the victim if possible
- The number of interviews with the victim are as limited in number as possible and carried out only if strictly necessary for the purposes of investigation
- The victim be accompanied by an adult of their choice, and if this request is refused, that the reasons for refusal be recorded by the officer in charge of investigation
By virtue of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 and Section 26, along with Schedule 4 of the Act, complainants in cases of slavery or human trafficking offences are entitled to anonymity in the course of criminal proceedings relating to those offences.
As with the offences that existed in respect of slavery and human trafficking before the commencement of the Act, offences under the Act are offences for which special measures are available to complainants in giving evidence in criminal proceedings, pursuant to the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.
Section 24 of the Act adds offences slavery or human trafficking offences under sections 1 or 2 of the Act to the list of offences in respect of which a complainant is automatically eligible for special measures in respect of their evidence in criminal proceedings.
Offences under the Act are also added to the list of offences to which the restriction on an accused cross-examining a complainant in person applies.
 See Article 26 of the Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings
© Law Centre (NI) 2017
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