Modern slavery victims may face barriers to seeking justice while criminal gangs “evade punishment” under Priti Patel’s immigration bill, cross-party MPs have warned.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has said the Nationality and Borders Bill could see government support removed from survivors of exploitation based on criminal acts they have been compelled to carry out.
Part 5 of the bill includes a series of changes to modern slavery support, which home secretary Priti Patel claims will prevent people from being able to “frustrate immigration action” by disclosing late in the process that they have suffered abuse.
The changes would mean any victim who has been sentenced to prison for more than 12 months anywhere in the world would be disqualified from modern slavery support in the UK, and that survivors would be given a defined period to disclose the abuse they have suffered.
The bill, which recently passed through the House of Commons and is due to go through the House of Lords next month, has already been criticised by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and senior police, as well as backbench Tory MPs including Iain Duncan Smith.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights warns in its new report that requiring victims to submit evidence of the abuse and exploitation they suffered within a defined period is “unfair” and risks the UK “failing to meet its obligations to combat slavery and human trafficking”.
It states that the new rule will “needlessly cast doubt on the credibility of potential victims of trafficking or slavery based on how quickly they can submit evidence”, and calls on ministers to issue guidance setting out the timescales and what might be reasonable grounds for missing a deadline.
The MPs also said it was “wrong” for victims of trafficking or slavery to be prevented from accessing protection due to past criminality, warning that this would act as an “invitation to the gangs responsible to target those with a criminal past”.
“Prosecuting trafficking victims is wrong because it punishes them for something they were compelled to do as victims. The government should provide further clarity on how the new measures will apply in such cases and what it is doing to ensure victims are not prosecuted, in line with its human rights obligations,” the report states.
Harriet Harman, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: “We are concerned that there is a lack of clarity in this bill that could instead see victims prosecuted, while the criminal gangs evade punishment.
“The bill must be there to support victims in coming forward, not add further barriers that needlessly throw doubt on their character or remove support based on criminal acts they have been compelled to do.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.