In The Dock report

13 June 2013

UK Criminal Justice System is losing its fight against trafficking

New report of Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group

A third report by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) entitled ‘In the Dock’ examines the effectiveness of the UK’s Criminal Justice System’s (CJS) response to trafficking in terms of law, policy and practice. The ATMG is a coalition of organisations established to monitor the progress of the UK Government in responding to this crime.

The report found that, in spite of localised examples of good practice, the CJS fails to systematically prosecute traffickers and protect victims’ rights. Despite the Government’s claims to make the UK a “hostile environment” for traffickers, human trafficking is not a policing priority.

The research found a disproportionally low number of convictions for trafficking compared to the increasing number of potential trafficked persons. In the past two years, data from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) suggests an increase in the number of potential trafficked persons. The provisional 2012 NRM statistics alone are said to have increased by 25% on the 2011 figures, which are higher than previous years. In the same period, the number of traffickers punished for trafficking offences has decreased.

In spite of several successful landmark cases investigated by the police and other law enforcement agencies highlighted by the report, the overall law enforcement capacity to respond to trafficking remains low. The culture of policing targets means that trafficking is not considered a priority and an investigation is often dependent on the goodwill and perseverance of individual officers. There is also a lack of tailored training to equip law enforcement officers with the specialist knowledge to effectively investigate this crime.

The research found that the impact of trafficking on victims is often misunderstood by criminal justice actors, resulting in inappropriate responses that hamper the trafficked persons’ ability to act as a witness and may potentially cause them further harm.

The majority of respondents to the research confirmed that trafficked persons are frequently refused assistance when presenting at police stations and are told that their problem is not a police matter, especially in instances of labour trafficking.

When a trafficking case gets to court the ATMG found that trial success can depend on the level of trafficking knowledge that the CPS prosecuting advocates and judges have, as well as the support afforded to a trafficked person who is participating in the proceedings.

Evidence suggests that many trafficked persons are prosecuted for crimes they were compelled to commit while their traffickers enjoy impunity. The research pointed to many instances where trafficked persons were misidentified as offenders, and were subsequently prosecuted and convicted. The continued criminalisation of trafficked persons in cases such as when people were trafficked for drug offences and those who were given false documents by their traffickers, was raised as a widespread problem.

The ATMG was also made aware of some cases where trafficked children were re-trafficked to another cannabis factory on release from Young Offender Institutions. The ATMG is concerned that the present practice may have the effect of a “revolving door”, leading to re-victimisation of vulnerable trafficked children and young persons.

The ATMG points out that the lack of unified law against human trafficking often leaves criminal justice actors uncertain about how to identify the crime and prosecute traffickers. It also concludes that the continued absence of an Anti-Trafficking Commissioner with a responsibility to overlook the Government’s and CJS’s response to trafficking exacerbates the dire situation described in the report.

Klara Skrivankova, Trafficking Programme Co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International said:

“We were pleased to find examples of localised good practice by the police, prosecutors and judges that led to trafficking convictions, however, much remains to be done to make the UK a hostile environment for traffickers as promised by the government. Until the Government makes tackling trafficking a priority it won’t be effective in prosecuting traffickers and protecting the victims.

“Our evidence suggests that many trafficked persons are prosecuted for crimes they were compelled to commit while their traffickers enjoy impunity. This is unacceptable. The UK is obliged by the law to investigate traffickers and protect victims from criminalisation.

“The current legislation does not assist in prosecuting traffickers. The Government should introduce a unified anti-trafficking law so the crime can be clearly identified by the police and prosecutors, and the rights of victims to and protection spelt out. Police on the frontline must be made aware that trafficking is a serious crime and that no victim should be turned away when presenting at a police station, which sadly is still a common occurrence.”

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (child trafficking), at ECPAT UK, said: “

“The innate vulnerabilities of children make them particularly susceptible to trafficking. Despite pockets of good practice, we consistently see child victims of trafficking not being given adequate protection and support. There continues to be a gap in the understanding of frontline practitioners who just aren’t well-enough informed about how to recognise and deal with cases of trafficking.

“These children are frequently alone in the UK and without anyone who can independently act in their best interests and provide adequate support during a police investigation and trial.

“In addition, prosecutions of child traffickers are rare, leaving children without justice and their perpetrators free to re-offend. This sends out a dangerous message that the UK is not tough enough on child trafficking. More must be done to better equip those tackling this crime and to protect those children who have been exploited in modern Britain.”

Sally Montier, Training and Capacity Building Worker at the Poppy Project said:

“There are pockets of very good practice in police responses to trafficked victims, and where there is an understanding of the complexity of trafficking cases and victim’s needs, we have seen some excellent results in terms of prosecutions. We are also pleased that there have been efforts made to improve and increase training for law enforcement. However we see evidence that further steps need to be taken to ensure that victims of this terrible crime are recognised, that their experiences are understood and that they themselves are not criminalised.

“We can confirm that many of our Service Users are convicted of crimes they were forced to commit while in the exploitative situation. This includes those who have been identified as potential victims of trafficking by the NRM or the Poppy Project but where this has been ignored by the CPS, police and Judiciary resulting in convictions and sentencing.

“In order to encourage victims to feel able to give evidence against their traffickers and to take part in investigations, it is vital that we treat them as victims of crime when they are first encountered and not as offenders. It is also vital that where trafficking convictions are made that the sentencing reflects the devastating and life-changing impact that the crime has on many victims.”

Full report can be dowloaded in PDF format here: In the Dock report (1864.83KB)

Note to Editors:

For more media information or to arrange interviews with Anti-Slavery International Trafficking Programme Co-ordinator Klara Skrivankova please contact Jakub Sobik, Anti-Slavery International Press Officer at or on 0207 501 8934.

The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) was established in May 2009 and works to promote a victim centred human-rights based approach to protect the well-being and best interests of trafficked persons. It was created to fulfil the role of a National Rapporteur set out in Article 29.4 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005. The ATMG undertakes analytical and evaluative monitoring of the implementation of the Convention, with a view to strengthening the overall effectiveness of UK anti-trafficking policy.

The ATMG comprises:
Amnesty International (Northern Ireland and Scotland)
Anti-Slavery International
Black Association of Women Step Out (BAWSO)
Helen Bamber Foundation
Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA of Glasgow Community & Safety Services)

‘In the Dock. Examining the UK’s Criminal Justice Response to Trafficking’ is the third report in the ATMG series. More information can be found at