Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister may explain the purpose of the two amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For the convenience of Senators, the Cathaoirleach has arranged for the printing and circulation to them of the amendments. A Senator may contribute once on Report Stage. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality and ask him to speak on the subject matter of amendments Nos. 1 and 2.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I thank the Acting Chairman. The main purpose of amendment No. 1 which I hope will be welcomed is to extend, for human trafficking offences, existing rules that make it easier for children to give evidence in criminal prosecutions. Article 15.4 of the EU human trafficking directive provides that member states shall take the necessary measures to ensure that in criminal prosecutions of human trafficking offences all interviews with a child victim or, where appropriate, a child witness may be video recorded and that such video-recorded interviews may be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. For the purposes of the directive, a child is any person below the age of 18 years. Amendment No. 1 effects two significant changes to section 16(1)(b) of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 in respect of human trafficking offences. First, to comply with the directive, it increases, from 14 to 18 years, the upper age threshold for out-of-court video recording of a complainant's evidence. Second, the amendment also applies to a child witness, other than the accused, who is under the age of 18 years.

While the scope of the amendment is limited to human trafficking offences, the extension of child evidence rules in the Bill is the first phase of plans for a wider extension of the rules. There are provisions similar to Article 15.4 of the human trafficking directive in an EU directive on combating sexual abuse and exploitation and also in the EU directive on victims' rights.

The other elements of amendment No. 1 are of a consequential nature. The amendments to section 15 of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 provide for consequential changes to the rules of criminal procedure. At present, the prosecution must give notice to the accused that it is intended to give evidence in the form of an out-of-court video-recorded statement of a victim under the age of 14 years and give the accused an opportunity of viewing the video recording. The amendments to section 15 extend this requirement to reflect the new categories of child witness whose evidence can be video recorded out of court. Section 19 of the 1992 Act cross-references other provisions in that Act so as to apply rules relating to child evidence to vulnerable persons under 18 or 14 years, as the case may be. The amendment to section 19 adjusts these references to reflect the new categories of child witness whose evidence can be video recorded out of court.

Amendment No. 2 makes a consequential change to the Long Title of the Act.

These are significant and worthwhile developments in assisting child victims of human trafficking offences in criminal investigations and proceedings. I hope Senators will support them and I commend them to the House.

I welcome the Minister and his officials.

I support these amendments to the Bill. It is a wise move to insert this type of provision in the Bill at this time. I commend the Minister for bringing forward the Bill dealing with this serious crime.

Trafficking is one of the most lucrative criminal activities in the world. I compliment the Minister on his work during the Presidency, chairing justice Ministers of the European Union to highlight this situation. He gave it a priority in his work. The co-operation of all countries is vital to prevent trafficking.

Organised begging is taking place nationally and the Garda Síochána is doing its utmost to deal with it. It is well organised and funded and it exploits young people. The Bill will enable the Garda to act quickly to deal with begging. I commend the Minister.

Cuirim fáílte roimh an Aire agus roimh an leasú seo. I welcome what is a very good amendment to the Bill. As the Minister has indicated, it may be useful to look at other areas of legislation in the context of the difficulty for young people under 18 years of age in testifying comfortably. It may be that this method of taking their evidence initially and using it later in court should be considered more broadly. It is a progressive measure which enhances the Bill. Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill in a general sense.

I welcome the Minister to the House and rise to speak in support of the Bill and the changes to trafficking law. Last week the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality published its report on the reform of the law on prostitution. The report encompassed consideration of the issue of trafficking on foot of very interesting evidence given to the committee by members of the Garda's anti-trafficking unit. I hope the Minister will have an early opportunity to review the recommendations we in the committee have made on criminalising the purchase rather than the sale of sex. We were delighted in the committee to have the opportunity to review the law in this area following the Minister's request. Of necessity, it will also encompass changes to the law on trafficking.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I compliment the Minister on the work he is doing on prevention and, hopefully, broadening the net. I compliment the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on its recently published report and recommendations. The most notable recommendation is to criminalise the purchase of sexual services by another person by means of prostitution or any request, agreement or attempt to do so. The proposal should be clarified to ensure that no offence is committed by the person whose sexual services are sold. The Minister has something to consider in that regard. The amendments made by the Dáil, particularly the amendment to section 4, are very positive. I will speak on that later.

International co-operation on trafficking is very important. We must ensure that the national referral mechanism works to its full capacity. The Minister is co-operating in that context with non-governmental organisations. The mechanism is working well but could be strengthened further. I was in Romania at the weekend to attend a meeting of parliamentarians against human trafficking. A recommendation that emerged from the meeting was that every border agency should ensure full co-operation among all agencies. I was alarmed to read during the week the comments of PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot on the proposed national crime agency in the North to combat crime, including trafficking, across the Border. Trafficking has no boundaries. The Chief Constable said lives would be put at risk by curtailing the powers of the national crime agency. It was Sinn Féin and the SDLP who blocked the initiative in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sinn Féin should ensure there is the fullest co-operation with all agencies of the Assembly and of this State so that policing operations work closely with those in the south of Ireland. Constable Matt Baggott said there would be huge restrictions and lives would be at risk. He expressed concerns that this was not given full support by Sinn Féin and the SDLP. The reason given was that they feared there was not enough transparency. What transparency exists in trafficking? There is very little; it is all hidden. We must do all in our power to ensure there is full transparency. I will speak later on section 4 and I support the section.

This is the only opportunity Senator Keane has to speak and she may speak only on the amendments. This is Report Stage, with amendments from the Dáil.

I have been working with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who is very proactive on this. I compliment the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, but we should do what 17 countries in the EU have done and set up a cross-party inter-parliamentary group to work with the EU project. The Department is working on trafficking with Anthony Steen in London and with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which is doing a report on trafficking. I thank the Department for the help given to the BIPA committee on trafficking. The European project of a common language and a dictionary of common terms used in trafficking, so that we are all using the same terminology across Europe, is important. It is being financed by the European Union as a pilot project and it is an opportune time for us to get involved. We are now involved in an observer capacity but when it comes to fruition I hope we can avail of the whole service that is on offer. Cross-border co-operation throughout Europe is so important and there is positive work going on.

I thank Senators for their supportive comments. This is a small but very important change in our law. It is about the protection of children. I agree with all Senators that we must address the issue of trafficking as effectively as we can. It is not an issue that can be addressed by any State on its own. It is important to have the maximum amount of co-operation at European level and the issue of trafficking is one of the subjects on the agenda during the course of the Irish Presidency of the European Union. We will continue to engage with other countries on this.

It is also important there is maximum co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. Human trafficking has been the subject matter of ministerial meetings between myself and David Ford, the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland. It is very important we acknowledge the major contribution made by cross-Border co-operation between both police forces. It is important that nothing be done to impede or prevent co-operation or to dilute the focus on targeting individuals engaged in trafficking. What is particularly important is that we provide protection for individuals who have been trafficked and that we encourage and work with them to provide necessary information and evidence, North and South, to facilitate appropriate prosecutions while ensuring that those who are the victims of human trafficking do not feel intimidated in any way should they need to give evidence in our courts. I thank Senators for their co-operation and I am pleased this will complete the legislative process on this Bill. When it is enacted and signed by the President, we will have important additional protections in place.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass," put and agreed to.