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Hearing the word ‘slavery’ invokes memories of history lessons and museums for many, but this practice is still a major concern today. Modern slavery, along with the related activities of human trafficking and smuggling, are among some of the greatest human rights concerns in the UK. In England and Wales, there are specific criminal offences that deal with modern slavery. For the most part, they are contained in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. As expected, consequences of being found in contravention of these laws are severe. If you have been charged with a modern slavery offence, no doubt you are concerned about what might happen next. In this article, we look at the Modern Slavery Act in more detail as well as outline the offence, sentences, and possible defences for modern slavery offences.
If when you think of slavery, you think of forced labour, debt servitude, and smuggling, you are on the right lines when it comes to the activities that fall under the definition of modern slavery. Under the Modern Slavery Act, the word ‘slavery’ is given its ordinary meaning. A person commits an offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour (a ‘Section 1’ offence) if they:
In other words, the offence is straightforward: if you know you are holding someone in slavery or servitude, or if you force them to perform compulsory labour, you are guilty of an offence under this piece of legislation.
Examples of the types of modern slavery include:
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidated many of the prior offences related to slavery and trafficking. Slavery is dealt with under Section 1 of the Act, as outlined above, and trafficking now is dealt with primarily under Section 2. So called, ‘Section 2’ offences relate to arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
The human trafficking offence is slightly more complicated, but it has the following general requirements:
It is irrelevant whether the victim is an adult or a child, and it is also irrelevant whether the victim consents to the travel. This explains why it is possible for traffickers to be charged even though the victim came willingly to the UK. In this case, ‘travel’ requires arriving in, entering, departing from, or travelling within any country, and the victim does not have to be from within the UK for there to be an offence in England and Wales.
If the alleged perpetrator is a UK national, it does not matter whether the offence was committed in the UK or elsewhere. If the alleged perpetrator is not a UK national, the offence must have been arranged, facilitated, or committed by arrival into, entry into, departure from, or travel within, the UK.
The victims of human trafficking are many and various. All age groups, nationalities, races, economic statuses, genders, sexual orientations, and other characteristics are harmed by trafficking.
Various forms of human trafficking have different typical victim sets (though one should be careful with generalisations here):
Offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 are ‘either way’ offences, meaning they can be tried in the Magistrates’ Court in less serious cases, and the Crown Court for more serious ones.
If found guilty of a Section 1 or Section 2 offence as described above, the Magistrates’ Court may hand down a sentence of up to 12 months’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both. The Crown Court, much more severely, may sentence a person to imprisonment for life.
These are very serious sentences in either case, and a conviction for a modern slavery offence can have devastating consequences on a person’s ability to enjoy a normal personal and professional life.
There are no specific defences available to the alleged perpetrators of modern slavery offences, unless they themselves are the victims of modern slavery.
If a victim of modern slavery commits an offence outlined in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, they may be able to rely on the Section 45 defence.
The Section 45 defence requires that:
Note that the law recognises that a person may be compelled to do something by another person or by the person’s circumstances. For example, a person may be compelled to comply with demands to assist in the commission of a modern slavery offence if their family is desperate for money and this is the only way they can earn some. There will, of course, be a high evidentiary standard to make this defence successful.
This defence exists to protect those that are forced into modern slavery and have no option but to commit these types of offences, for fear of retaliation, violence, or even death if they do not comply.
If you or someone you care about has been charged with an offence relating to modern slavery, you are understandably worried about what happens next. Modern slavery offences carry with them a stigma like few other offences, so it is imperative you find a non-judgmental and experienced criminal defence solicitor who deeply understands the trial process. For more information about modern slavery offences and what might happen if you have been charged with one, contact the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today.
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