The "evil" crime of trafficking in human beings was highlighted by leading judges today.
In a strongly worded judgment, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting at the Court of Appeal in London, announced: "In essence, for a human being to be treated as property is an affront to human dignity."
He and two other judges said that those who trafficked others were committing "very serious" and "abhorrent" crimes.
Lord Judge declared: "The evil of trafficking in human beings is an international problem which is condemned throughout the civilised world."
The comments came as Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Royce and Mr Justice Globe, handed down guidelines following the first consideration by the Court of Appeal of the "problem of child trafficking for labour exploitation".
Lord Judge said the problem had not previously been "subject to any close analysis" following the coming into force of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005 - ratified by the UK in December 2008.
He said: "We emphasise that the protective ambit of the Convention is not limited to those who have, by whatever means, crossed international boundaries.
"Sometimes those born and brought up in this country fall within the ambit of the trafficking in human beings prohibited by the Convention, and sometimes those who have not been trafficked into the country become victims of trafficking after their arrival here.
"The Convention applies to them equally as it does to those who have been trafficked into this country for the purposes of exploitation."
At the centre of today's ruling were conviction appeals in separate cases by two Vietnamese teenagers who, it was contended, were the victims of "trafficking and consequent exploitation".
Both had pleaded guilty to offences involving the production of cannabis. One was given an 18-month detention and training order and the other was sentenced to 20 months detention.
It was argued on their behalf at a hearing last November that they should not have been prosecuted and their convictions were "unsafe".
Lord Judge said today: "The issue in these appeals is whether the process of the court was abused by the decision of the prosecuting authority to prosecute."
The alleged abuse of process related to an Article 26 Convention requirement on the UK to provide for the possibility of not imposing penalties on victims of trafficking for their involvement in unlawful activities "to the extent that they have been compelled to do so".
Although the appeals at the heart of today's judgment were brought well outside the legal time limit - the convictions were in 2009 - the judges allowed them to be heard to enable issues relating to child trafficking and labour exploitation to be argued.
Lord Judge said: "Summarising the essential principles, the implementation of the United Kingdom's Convention obligation is normally achieved by the proper exercise of the long established prosecutorial discretion which enables the Crown Prosecution Service, however strong the evidence may be, to decide that it would be inappropriate to proceed or to continue with the prosecution of a defendant who is unable to advance duress as a defence but who falls within the protective ambit of Article 26.
"This requires a judgment to be made by the CPS in the individual case in the light of all the available evidence."
The judges dismissed both appeals, ruling in the first case that the evidence did not lead to the conclusion that the conviction was unsafe "on the basis that the prosecution constituted an abuse of process and violated the United Kingdom's Convention obligations".
In the second case they ruled that "on the facts, the decision to prosecute was amply justified".
Lord Judge said: "We have no reason to doubt that the CPS, as the responsible prosecuting authority, will continue to examine individual cases in the light of developing knowledge and understanding of the issues of trafficking."
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Human trafficking is a heinous form of organised crime where people are treated as commodities. Our Human Trafficking strategy reiterated the UK’s determination to combat trafficking. It also included measures to ensure that victims of trafficking are supported as victims and not unnecessarily criminalised.”
"The National Crime Agency on establishment in 2013 will have a key role in building on the existing arrangements for tackling human trafficking. The new agency will target the organised criminal gangs involved in human trafficking, wherever they are.”