Givan: Department's view of trafficking bill 'disgraceful'

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Video of this committee is in two parts due to its length. The second part can be viewed here.

The chairman of the Justice Committee, Paul Givan, said he would speak to the chief constable about comments made by a senior police officer concerning human trafficking, on 12 September 2013.

Det Supt Philip Marshall had expressed the view that the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, proposed by the DUP's Lord Morrow, would hinder rather than help the fight against trafficking and prostitution.

Mr Marshall's comments were raised during a committee briefing on Lord Morrow's bill.

Mr Givan, of the DUP, also criticised the Department of Justice's view of the bill, describing it as "disgraceful".

Lord Morrow told committee members that under his proposals paying for sex could result in a one-year prison sentence.

The DUP MLA said that between 2008 and 2013 "over 100 victims of human trafficking have been identified in our province" and that this was "the tip of the iceberg".

Lord Morrow criticised the Department of Justice for its "minimalist approach" to the EU directive on human trafficking.

He said there were two main reasons for introducing his private member's bill; "to effectively tackle human trafficking and exploitation" in Northern Ireland, and to ensure that legislation fitted "the letter and the spirit of the directive".

Conviction for a slavery or human trafficking offence "would result in a minimum custodial sentence of two years", he explained.

"Northern Ireland has a proud abolitionist heritage," he concluded.

Swedish lawyer Gunilla Ekberg briefed the committee on the situation in her country, where paying for sex is illegal.

She rejected the argument that many women selling sex had not been forced into prostitution, stating that the Dutch criminal police said between 50 and 90% of the women working in legal brothels in the Netherlands were there against their will.

Mr Givan asked for her opinion of the argument that prostitution should not be addressed in the human trafficking bill.

Ms Ekberg said those controlling the women had to move them across borders or between towns.

"The men who buy the women don't want to buy the same women always," she said.

Rosie McCorley of Sinn Fein said her party was concerned about the clause banning paying for sex.

She said there were different opinions over the linking of trafficking and prostitution.

"We would need to see more evidence that there is that connection. We need to know more about prostitution," she said.

Stewart Dickson of Alliance was concerned that there could be "day trips to Scotland for sex" since there appeared to be no intention to adopt the policy of banning payment for sex there.

Ms Ekberg said that Swedish men went to Denmark to pay for sex "but not in the numbers that would had we not had this law in Sweden".

The committee was then briefed by Department of Justice officials who outlined the views of the minister, David Ford, on Lord Morrow's bill.

Gareth Johnston indicated that the minister would like to see the clause banning the payment for sex to be removed from the bill.

"The intent behind clause six is on reducing the incidence of trafficking into the sex industry with no consideration of the wider issues surrounding prostitution," he said.

Mr Johnston said the police were "concerned about the potential impact on reporting" and there was a danger that prostitution could be "driven underground".

He said the Swedish legislation "is a model which deserves careful study", but there was currently not enough reliable data on the situation in Northern Ireland, and the minister had commissioned research on this.

Mr Givan said: "The department's position is more than lamentable. I find it disgraceful."

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