In 2005, Ms Wei Tang was charged with five counts of possessing a slave and five counts of intentionally exercising over a slave, the power attaching to the right of ownership namely the power to use, contrary to s 270.3(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.
Between August 2002 and May 2003, five Thai women, recruited by brokers in Thailand, voluntarily entered into contracts to work as sex workers in a brothel owned by Ms Tang in Australia. Pursuant to the contract, each woman incurred a debt of between $40,000 and $45,000, which was said to include their travel expenses, accommodation, food and any other incidental expenses incurred whilst working in Australia.
Upon arrival, each of the women’s passports and return airline tickets were confiscated and placed in a locker at the brothel. The women were accommodated in an apartment located close by or else lived in the house of the brothel manager known as Mummy, where three or four women shared each room. The women’s movements were restricted and Ms Tang controlled when and where the women worked, often requiring them to work long hours, up to seven days a week. The brothel charged each client a fee of $110 for sex. The debt of each woman was reduced by $50 per client, however one day a week they were entitled to a free day or could work and retain any earnings they made (still being $50 per client).
On 31 May 2003, the brothel was raided and Ms Tang, Mr Paul Pick and one other co-accused (DS) were arrested. DS pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing a slave and two counts of engaging in slave trading. She was sentenced to nine years imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years. Following an appeal, the sentence was reduced to six years imprisonment with a non-parole period of two years and six months.
Country Court of Victoria
After an initial trial heard together with Mr Pick, the jury were discharged after failing to reach a unanimous verdict in respect of any of the charges against Ms Tang. Ms Tang was later tried separately from Mr Pick and convicted on all counts in June 2006. She was sentenced to ten years imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years. She appealed against both conviction and sentence.
Victorian Court of Appeal (conviction appeal)
In June 2007, the Victorian Court of Appeal found that despite the conviction being adequately supported by evidence, the trial judge provided an inadequate direction to the jury in respect of the fault element of the offence and as such the appeal was to be upheld and the convictions quashed. A retrial was ordered.
High Court of Australia
The prosecution sought special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia which was subsequently granted. On 28 August 2008, the High Court handed down its judgment, with a 6-1 majority upholding the appeal, setting aside the orders of the Court of Appeal and dismissing Ms Tang’s appeal on conviction.
Victorian Court of Appeal (sentence appeal)
Following the High Court’s decision, Tang resubmitted her appeal against sentence. The Victorian Court of Appeal found that while the sentence was not manifestly excessive, as had been claimed by Ms Tang, it did have the effect of ultimately punishing Ms Tang twice for her crimes and as such should be reduced. Further evidence which was not available to the sentencing judge was also accepted in respect of Ms Tang’s circumstances which resulted in the Court of Appeal reducing the sentence to a total of nine years imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of five years.
R v Wei Tang  VCC 637