Human trafficking is a clandestine phenomenon in which its victims often remain unidentified by the justice system and law enforcement. According to the Guardian, Modern slavery, including labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, is estimated to cost the UK between £3.3bn and £4.3bn, with the range reflecting uncertainty around the number of victims, which is put between 10,000 and 13,000.
More visibility and identification are needed to help eliminate this crime. This visibility may only be achieved through the improvement of the relationship between victims and the justice system, which includes easy access to the system and understanding and trust in the system.
New technology for the justice system: Online Courts
The justice system in England and Wales is undergoing significant transformation through the use of technology, such as the introduction of virtual (online) court systems.
The introduction of Online Courts is based on the 2017 Prisons and Court Bill and envisions that people will have minimum assistance from lawyers and “case officers” will replace judges for claims valued at up to £25,000. However, this number could increase at a later date. The issues covered by the Online Court could include “applying for divorce and probate, making tax appeals, launching civil money claims, and tracking the progress of social security and child support appeals.” Therefore, the idea is that an introduction of this system would allow for greater numbers of low level offences to be addressed quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively, while also alleviating the backlog of the justice system and its reduced resources.
Julia Muraszkiewicz and Olivia Iannelli’s aim in writing “The drive for virtual (online) courts and the failure to consider obligations to combat human trafficking – A short note of concern on identification, protection and privacy of victims” is to increase awareness on the impact and the issues related to human rights that Online Courts may have.
Online Courts bring many positives for both the justice system and applicants:
- they would allow for individuals who previously could not afford a lawyer to access the judicial process.
- they would ensure cases are dealt with quickly and efficiently thus, improving services and redress. Also,
- they may allow for victims of certain crimes, such as domestic violence, to avoid being confronted by their perpetrator and thus, being exposed to further psychological distress.
However, as shown in Julia and Olivia’s research, this digital development may also have severe consequences for victims of crimes, including those of human trafficking. For example, there is concern that victims of human trafficking may be further pushed into the shadows as their exploitation may become invisible throughout the new process.
For this reason, when implementing new technologies or technological systems such as Online Courts it is essential to undertake a full-scale impact assessment which includes considerations of key values such as human rights, ethics as well as trials and evaluations.
This assessment would consider any issues the technology could have related to gender, societal implications, privacy and victimhood and thus allow for early mitigation of any concerns.
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