Revised National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking published in new bill

18 Jul 2023


On 17 July 2023, a new bill containing a revised National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for the identification and support of victims of human trafficking was published. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023 places the identification and protection of victims of human trafficking on statutory footing and expands the number of bodies that can identify a victim beyond An Garda Síochána. These two developments address some of the key gaps indicated by stakeholders interviewed for EMN Ireland/ESRI research on human trafficking last year.

The Bill seeks to create two categories of bodies that can identify a victim of trafficking: ‘competent authorities’ and ‘trusted partners’.

  • Competent authorities: An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) and the Workplace Relations Commission.
  • Trusted partners: registered charitable organisations that work with victims of human trafficking and are approved by the Minister. Under the bill, the organisations must first apply to the Minister for approval and as such, no trusted partners are named.

A victim of trafficking can make an application to be recognised as such to either a competent authority or a trusted partner. This body will then decide if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is a victim of trafficking following indicators set out in the ‘operational guidelines’ (not published). Once reasonable grounds are established, the person becomes a ‘presumed victim of trafficking’ and their application is referred to an operational committee made up of an officer of the Minister and a representative of each competent authority and trusted partner.

The operational committee decides if the person can be formally identified as a victim of trafficking (‘identified victim of trafficking’). As soon as a person is a presumed victim of trafficking, they enter the National Referral Mechanism and have access to various supports, including healthcare, accommodation, and legal aid, among other supports. There is also a ban on deportations throughout the identification procedure.

By placing the National Referral Mechanism on statutory footing, clear definitions are established for identification, and the rights of victims of trafficking are clarified. As compared to the General Scheme published last year, the Bill now sets out an appeals procedure and also clarifies procedures for child victims of trafficking.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) welcomed the publication of the Bill, noting that there were improvements from the General Scheme published last year. However, it also noted that there remained no statutory protection from prosecution for victims of human trafficking and that victims of sexual exploitation are not provided the same protections in criminal trials as victims of other sexual offences.


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