Law Centre NI is delighted to report that yesterday the Justice Committee agreed two amendments to the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficked Victims) Bill. The Committee agreed amendments that will:
- Provide post NRM (National Referral Mechanism) support for victims and survivors of trafficking for up to 12 months;
- Widen the scope of the statutory defence available for victims and survivors.
These amendments came about following a period of intensive engagement with the Committee where we worked closely with Northern Ireland’s three trafficking support organisations. We thank Flourish NI, Migrant Help and Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid for sharing their expertise and for their commitment to ensuring that the trafficking process is victim-centred. We also thank CARE NI for raising these issues.
Once implemented, these amendments will make a very significant difference to the lives of victims and survivors. At present, despite being recognised as victims of trafficking (with a positive NRM decision), a small number of victims are homeless and destitute: being recognised as a victim of trafficking does not in itself provide entitlement to social security. EEA nationals who have Pre-Settled Status are particularly likely to find themselves in this very difficult situation. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner notes that if victims and survivors cannot access the necessary housing and financial support, they can be “drawn back into exploitative or abusive situations”.
The first amendment will ensure that all recognised victims of trafficking have access to financial support for up to 12 months. This will support their process of (re)integration into society and will reduce the risks of further exploitation. We estimate that up to 40 people each year will benefit from this.
The second amendment will help to ensure that victims are not prosecuted for drug-related offences that occur as a direct result of being enslaved.
We wish the Bill well in completing its legislative passage. We also look forward to working with Department of Justice officials in developing this new post NRM support service.
Finally, a sincere thank you to the members of the Justice Committee for adopting these amendments.
- You can listen in to the Committee adopting the recommendations here (1:52:36 mins): Committee for Justice Meeting, Thursday 20 January 2022 – Northern Ireland Assembly TV (niassembly.tv)
- You can watch the four organisations give evidence to the Justice Committee here (39:00 mins): Committee for Justice Meeting Thursday 11 November 2021 – YouTube