Re M (Children) (Suspected Trafficking – Competent Authority)  EWFC 56, is a care proceedings case which involved the potential human trafficking of two children, aged two and four, who had been brought to the UK from Namibia by their grandmother.
This case required the involvement of the Home Office’s “Competent Authority”, through a referral to the National Referral Mechanism. The Competent Authority was asked to consider whether there were sufficient grounds to decide that the children were victims of trafficking.
Mrs Justice Parker looked at the role of the Competent Authority in investigating human trafficking within care proceedings. Under the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking of Human Beings (the “Convention”), before the court may proceed, the Competent Authority must first determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe a person is a victim of trafficking. Should the Competent Authority decide that there are reasonable grounds, it must make enquiries and conduct investigations to then reach a “conclusive grounds decision” on the balance of probabilities as to whether the child is a victim, which will in turn begin support services for the victim.
The basic facts of the case are as follows. Upon their arrival in Birmingham, the children and their grandmother were stopped by Border Control who were concerned about the children’s relationship with the lady and their reason for being in the UK. The lady said that she was their grandmother and was bringing them to the UK for a two week holiday. The grandmother was subsequently detained and interviewed, and the children were made subject of protection orders and placed into foster care having been granted temporary admission. The grandmother told authorities that she wished to return to Namibia with the children.
It was agreed that it would be in the best interest of the children that they return to Namibia and be reunited with their grandmother, their “sole mother figure”, in order to avoid any further distress or disruption. However, the court also agreed that, based on the evidence seen, it could not yet comfortably make an order to return the children to Namibia. The Competent Authority was asked to investigate further so as to inform the court as to how the children would be returned and how the Namibian authorities would then proceed. The court recognised that the Competent Authority has the necessary expertise, experience and knowledge to conduct such enquiries. For the purposes of the Competent Authority’s enquiry, it was said that the children should remain in the country, until the court could conclude the care proceedings. The hearing was adjourned and the Competent Authority was asked to communicate to the court its findings by the date of the hearing in March.
The Competent Authority informed the court on 14 March 2017 that is had made its conclusive grounds decisions in respect of both children, saying that it could not be established that they had been brought here for the purpose of exploitation. Following the hearing in March 2017, the court was satisfied that the Competent Authority’s decision brought “to an end the court’s role in respect of these children”, and that it would now be for the Namibian court to conduct any further investigation. The court expressed that the children should remain in interim care until they were to be reunited with their grandmother at the airport in a few days’ time. Mrs Justice Parker, of the interaction between the court and the Competent Authority, said “this type of investigation must be progressed with the utmost speed in accordance with the duties placed on the Competent Authority and the court should endeavour to facilitate communication and engage in as much decision making as it can at the earliest opportunity”.