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Law conference puts spotlight on human trafficking

By Katie Weiss

Felicity Gerry QC is speaking at the Northern Territory Bar Association Conference, co-hosted with CDU School of Law Felicity Gerry QC is speaking at the Northern Territory Bar Association Conference, co-hosted with CDU School of Law

Defence lawyers could play leading roles in identifying human trafficking victims and freeing them from their oppressors.

Charles Darwin University Law lecturer Felicity Gerry QC said defence lawyers could help human trafficking victims escape traumatic circumstances when they accessed legal services.

Miss Gerry will speak about human trafficking issues during the Northern Territory Bar Association Conference in Dili, Timor-Leste, co-hosted by the CDU School of Law.

She said human trafficking victims often entered the legal system after committing crimes, such as drug smuggling, stealing, and offences arising from the international sex trade.

“These people are so frightened that they don’t reveal they are human traffic victims and are imprisoned rather than supported," Miss Gerry said.

“There are dangers for the person if they reveal they are a human traffic victim, but there are also dangers if they remain silent and go back to the traffickers.”

Miss Gerry said these victims could avoid prosecution for alleged crimes and gain access to support services if their defence lawyers could prove they were human traffic victims.

She said the general public might struggle with the idea of freeing alleged offenders, particularly those allegedly involved in drug smuggling.

But Miss Gerry said the reward of liberating a human traffic victim, and potentially arresting human traffickers, was of greater public interest than prosecuting the victim.

“You’re aiming for the bosses, not the slaves,” she said. “It’s a whole new way of thinking.”

Miss Gerry said human trafficking victims included sex slaves, child soldiers and domestic slaves.

The Northern Territory Bar Association Conference, “Common Issues: Common Solutions”, will run from July 10 to 12.

Speakers from CDU include: senior law lecturer and customary law specialist Danial Kelly, principal human rights law lecturer Jeswynn Yogaratnam, environmental law specialist and law lecturer Ros Vickers and Professorial Fellow of Politics Dennis Shoesmith.

Timor-Leste Justice Minister Dr Dioniso Babo-Soares will open the event, followed by a keynote address from Australian National University Centre for International Governance and Justice director Dr Hilary Charlesworth.