Thomas Pringle TD

Pringle: New criminal law bill falls short when addressing human trafficking

Thomas PringleTD: New criminal law bill falls short when addressing human trafficking

Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, has welcomed many provisions of the new Criminal Law bill regarding sexual offenses, but said the bill falls short when addressing human trafficking, and the trafficking of children in particular.

Addressing the Dáil on Wednesday, Deputy Pringle said: “When victims come forward to disclose a sexual assault, they are frequently met with more questions than support. This has to change.”

The deputy was speaking on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and Human Trafficking) Bill.

Deputy Pringle said: “I welcome that Section 8 of the bill ensures that when the defence in a trial involving a sexual offence makes an application to question the complainant about his or her sexual history or experience, the complainant is entitled to be separately legally represented when such application is being heard by the trial judge.

“This will hopefully improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. However, I do wonder whether there is a need to question a complainant about their sexual history at all. I fail to see how someone’s past sexual encounters have any relevance to a sexual offence that they are the victim of. The prospect of being subjected to character assassination based on previous sexual history deters a lot of victims of sexual crime from continuing with a prosecution, or even from making a report to An Garda Síochána in the first place,” he said.

He welcomed the section of the bill that provides any character evidence adduced at the sentencing hearing must be given under oath or via affidavit.

The deputy said: “This would mean character reference letters will no longer be read out in court unchallenged, if such a challenge is warranted, and this is a very positive development.”

However, Deputy Pringle said: “Where this bill does fall short is in the human trafficking part of the legislation. The fact that the General Scheme does not provide for a child-specific National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is extremely disappointing.

“This was raised at the Justice Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the bill and the Department came back and said that ‘the approach taken in the legislation is to create the NRM framework for all victims and to specify its membership, which will include the Child and Family Agency.’ I don’t believe that this goes far enough. We need a dedicated identification mechanism for child victims of trafficking. 

“Children are among the most vulnerable victims of trafficking. Given their unique vulnerability, child victims of trafficking need child-specific processes and procedures.

“A 2022 report by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission indicated that: ‘child trafficking in Ireland has received very little public or political attention. There is limited research, and debates on the issue are seldom. Relative to trafficking in adults, it would appear that child trafficking remains more hidden and unknown.’ This is extremely shameful. 

“We should be doing everything in our power to tackle child trafficking and the laws in this country do not go far enough in protecting child victims,” he said.

Deputy Pringle also cited outdated language in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1988.

The deputy said: “Senator Eileen Flynn in the Seanad introduced the Child Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Amendment) Bill last year to address the outdated language used in our legislation and unfortunately the Minister hasn’t engaged with this legislation since.

“I would like to finish by urging the Minister to consider strengthening the 1998 Act to ensure further protections for victims of child trafficking and to update the outdated and harmful language used in the legislation,” he said.