Women and children who are forced into prostitution through trafficking are to be protected from prosecution, under proposals announced in today’s Queen’s Speech.
The Modern Slavery Bill aims to provide support for trafficking and slavery victims, helping them to come forward and bring their slave masters to justice.
The plans would protect those who have been compelled to commit a crime, preventing them from being treated as criminals.
The Bill includes longer sentences for “modern-day slave drivers”, and will give police further powers to confiscate the assets of people traffickers and pass the proceeds on to victims as compensation.
It is also expected to include the creation of guardians for child victims of human trafficking.
A Home Office source told The Sunday Times: “We want to make sure victims of modern slavery who have been forced to commit an offence through physical or mental abuse are protected by the British justice system”.
“It is particularly important that extremely vulnerable victims feel able to take the brave decision to come forward and give evidence against their abusers.”
Ministers say that safeguards will aim to ensure that the defence of being “compelled to commit a crime” will not be misused.
Frank Field, a Labour MP who is supporting the Bill, said: “This is crucially important in human terms but without such a major move the act would be unlikely to achieve a prime objective of very significantly increasing the numbers of successful prosecutions.
“Victims have to feel safe before taking on the slave masters.”
According to a BBC report, it is thought around 4,500 people in the UK are living as modern day slaves, but only a very small number of those responsible are ever caught or punished.
Home Secretary Theresa May reportedly wants the Bill to be on the statute book before the next General Election in 2015.