Exploitation of Vulnerable People

Attorney General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 2018.

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Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 12:00 am, 1st November 2018

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the CPS in prosecuting crimes involving the exploitation of vulnerable people.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The Crown Prosecution Service has had considerable success in prosecuting cases involving the exploitation of vulnerable people by gangs. The number of offences charged and prosecuted under trafficking and slavery legislation has risen year on year to 340 last year, and last month we saw the successful prosecution of Zakaria Mohammed, who is believed to be the first person to be jailed under modern slavery laws in respect of the exploitation of children.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the use of some of the youngest and most vulnerable people in our society for county lines drugs trafficking is a particularly pernicious offence? What is the CPS doing to crack down on that activity?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is right to focus on the menace of organised crime and county lines. The CPS has developed an approach to county lines, particularly when it comes to the investigation and prosecution of offences involving vulnerable people—in other words, how to treat them and whether they should be treated as victims or defendants.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

The anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice has said that two thirds of UK modern slavery victims are in the waste industry. The Environment Agency is training its staff to spot this exploitation. What liaison is the CPS having with the Environment Agency on this matter?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The waste industry, car cleaning and such activities are clearly a focus for this type of unlawful behaviour. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are indeed working with other agencies, but I take the particular point she makes and I will re-emphasise it to the CPS.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House what the CPS is doing to support and protect vulnerable people who have been the victims of crime in order to secure their valuable evidence?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the victims. I have mentioned the decision to be made about the vulnerable victims of human trafficking. We have a particular mechanism that we use to protect the position of people who might otherwise be in the country unlawfully and to give them support so an informed decision to be made about their involvement in the process. I am confident that the CPS is working very hard always to improve its approach to victims.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

The number of rapes reported has more than doubled since 2013-14, yet the Crown Prosecution Service’s “Violence against Women and Girls Report 2017-18” highlights a 23.1% fall in the number of defendants charged with rape compared with the previous year. Why does the Solicitor General think this has happened?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. Since those figures have been obtained, I and others have been working very hard to establish what the often complex reasons for them are. Sadly, I think that a lot of them are long-standing ones. What is sometimes unattractively described as the rate of attrition, as well as the experience of victims in this service, is still something that needs to be dealt with fully. That involves not just the CPS end of it, but the very early stages of the investigation. I assure him that every effort is being made to try to close that gap in a meaningful sense.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

I hear the Solicitor General’s words, but clearly actions are necessary, too. This is a deep concern. I am sure that he will have seen the recent story in The Guardian newspaper that staff at the Crown Prosecution Service have been told:

“If we took…weak cases out of the system, our conviction rate goes up to 61%.”

Clearly, decisions to prosecute are subject, under the code for Crown prosecutors, as the Solicitor General knows, to the evidential test and the public interest test, not to some kind of arbitrary decision to get the figures up. Has that been said, and if it has been said, what action is he going take?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that any suggestion that there should be an artificial target that trumps the tried and tested code for prosecutors would be wholly wrong. I will absolutely make sure myself, as will others within the CPS, that such observations—if, indeed, they have been made—are ones that carry no weight whatsoever.