Three Years On - Interview with Lord Morrow

This week marks three years since the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act was passed into legislation in Northern Ireland. As part of our series focusing on human trafficking and modern slavery, we've spoken to a number of key players involved with tackling the issue.

Our first interview is with Lord Morrow, who is primarily responsible for bringing the legislation through the NI Assembly.


Below is a written version of the full interview with Lord Morrow. We encourage you to read and reflect on the interview which highlights what action is being taken to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery in Northern Ireland.


What motivated you to draft legislation to combat human trafficking and exploitation?

Lord Morrow: I was motivated by two things; the first was by a chance conversation with Dan Boucher, Parliamentary Director at CARE (Christian Action, Research and Education). We share the Christian faith and this conversation with Dan became a catalyst for action as we started to talk about the evils of trafficking and what we could do to stop it - that was the spark.

The second thing, was reading a book about William Wilberforce- the Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner, written by William Hague. I began to understand and identify with Wilberforce’s personal and political fight to criminalise and outlaw slavery, because I look upon human trafficking as modern day slavery.

I don’t want to have it after my name that I steered a Private Members Bill through the Assembly- it is enough motivation for me to know I’ve made a mark, and made someone’s life better, even if it is just one person. That’s enough for me. 


What are you most pleased about regarding the legislation?

Lord Morrow: The fact we got to the end and the Bill finally went through is an achievement in and of itself. It took up a big part of my life- 3 years in fact. At the time we weren’t sure if the Assembly was going to stand.  It was a great relief to get to the end with the Bill intact- it had over 100 amendments but none of them damaged the Bill. It increased from an 18 Clause Bill to a 29 Clause Bill.

At the outset, we had 3 aims: (1) improving support for victims of trafficking and exploitation (2) reducing demand for human trafficking and exploitation (3) ensuring perpetrators of these human trafficking and exploitation offences are punished.

Those 3 aims carried through to the end. I am confident that now and in the years to come because we have this law in place we are, and we will see, lives being changed – victims helped, exploitation prevented and criminals brought to justice.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was in the process of going through UK Parliament at the same time as the NI Bill was going through the Assembly. This allowed the UK as a whole to be able to look to, and learn from, Northern Ireland’s experience.


On reflection- is there anything you would have done differently?

Lord Morrow: I would have prepared myself differently for what turned out to be a very slow process- a Bill I thought would be dealt with inside 12 months turned into 3 years.

Nothing in this world is perfect, and that includes legislation. What we are doing now is watching and waiting patiently to see if there are areas where we could make changes.

The legislation however, went to plan as much as we could have hoped for, and we have no regrets about Section 15 which criminalises the purchase of sex.

We’ve also met with the PSNI and PPS (Public Prosecution Service) in regards Section 15, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services. Both the PSNI and PPS have acknowledged that it is a ‘useful tool in our toolbox for tackling human trafficking and exploitation.’ I have however, been slightly disappointed in the lack of prosecutions under Section 15- more could be done, and more should be done.

There are also a handful of issues which could easily be cleaned up- for example the operation of Statutory Defence.

We will be continuing to push the PSNI, PPS, and NI Government at every angle we feel is appropriate. There is no point in the legislation just sitting there- it is the enforcement aspect which is essential to deter traffickers.


Is there anything outstanding from the Act which still needs to be implemented?

Lord Morrow: There have definitely been some frustrations surrounding the Bill’s implementation. The Independent Guardian Scheme for example, has been infuriatingly slow and guardians have not yet been appointed. The first guardians are to be assigned in April 2018.

The exit program with regard to prostitution, doesn’t work as we hoped it would and that is primarily an issue around resources. We would love to legislate for a huge programme but we have to trust the Department of Health in this area, which is a squeezed financial department to begin with.

It’s up to the Departments to begin to factor the implementation of the Bill into their annual budgets. 

We have come a long way over the last three years- the awareness of trafficking within Northern Ireland has been massively amplified and the Department of Justice and PPS are taking human trafficking seriously. There are however, still concerns about how some of the processes work- particularly after victims have been referred through the National Referral Mechanism. What then? What role should the State play at that stage?

It is important to acknowledge the valued help from CARE, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin during the process, as well as Gunilla Ekberg, Special Advisor to the Swedish Government. Women’s Aid have also been a great support, alongside the Law Centre.


What would you like the legacy of this legislation to be?

Lord Morrow: That Northern Ireland is a safer place for everyone and everybody is treated with dignity and respect. For the message to go out loud and clear across the world that Northern Ireland is a cold house for human trafficking - that is the greatest legacy we could hope to have.