The Law Society has told a parliamentary committee that a proposed bill to counter slavery and people trafficking fails to ’safeguard victims effectively’ and lacks ’clarity, precision and simplicity’.

The criticisms appear in evidence submitted by the Society to a public bill committee convened by the House of Commons to consider the Modern Slavery bill after its second reading.

If passed, the bill will be the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first attempts globally to address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. The bill is intended to consolidate current offences relating to trafficking and slavery, and to establish an anti-slavery commissioner.

The Society says that it supports the bill’s aims, but is concerned that there are no adequate safeguards for survivor victims. Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘We applaud the government for taking seriously the ongoing problem of modern slavery, and also their plans to address the issue, but have reservations about the effectiveness of the proposals. With the British government leading the way on modern slavery legislation, it is of paramount importance that the bill safeguards victims effectively and sets an example in this field.’

The Society’s main concerns are:

  • the need to protect children; 
  • lack of clarity, precision and simplicity of offences listed;
  • concerns that some criminal activity in relation to modern slavery will either not be caught by the provisions, or the hurdles required to overcome in mounting a prosecution will prevent effective law enforcement; 
  • concerns the offences clauses in the bill are overly complex and do not reflect international definitions of trafficking and forced labour;
  • slave masters and traffickers will be able to use the ’double criminality’ requirement (that the offence being investigated by the requiring country is also an offence in the receiving country) to avoid successful prosecution;
  • that the proposed anti-slavery commissioner will not be effective without being independent from the Home Secretary.

Slavery and trafficking will be among subjects covered in the Society’s annual human rights conference, on 10 December.  Find out more about the conference here.