Human trafficking or modern slavery is one of the most appalling forms of criminal activity today. It’s also one of the most widespread and fastest-growing.
The International Labour Organisation believes that at any one time at least 40.3 million people around the world are being coerced into a situation of exploitation or made to work against their will, often having been transported across borders. Such exploitation can take many different forms, but the most common include forced prostitution, forced labour or forced marriage.
Estimates vary hugely as to how many victims of trafficking or modern slavery there are in the UK, from 13,000 up to 136,000. What is clear is that it is a significant and constantly evolving problem, and one of the major drivers of organised crime. The UK has taken some very good steps to address the issue. However, two judgments earlier this year, and a news story this month, have drawn attention to the fact that the system put in place to combat human trafficking and modern slavery has some serious flaws in how it works in practice.
UK charity Migrants Rights Net have been granted permission to proceed with their challenge to the data-sharing agreement between the Home Office, the Department of Health and NHS Digital. The agreement has meant that the Home Office may require the NHS to hand over patients’ personal non-clinical information, such as last known address, for immigration enforcement purposes.
Currently, the Home Office makes thousands of requests per year, of which only around 3% are refused. A joint response from Home Office and health ministers suggested that opponents of the agreement had downplayed the need for immigration enforcement, and that it was reasonable to expect government officers to exercise their powers to share this kind of data, which ‘lies at the lower end of the privacy spectrum.’ However, critics of the agreement argue that it compromises the fundamental principle of patient confidentiality, fails to consider the public interest, and results in a discrepancy in operating standards between NHS Digital and the rest of the NHS. The good news for Migrants Rights Net was twofold: the challenge will proceed to a full hearing with a cost-capping order of £15,000.
Reilly & Anor, R (On the Application of)  EWHC Civ 66 – read judgment
Adam Wagner has also commented on this case in The Times (£) as well as onNewsnight (from the start)
The Court of Appeal has ruled that regulations under the Jobseekers Act 1995 were unlawful as not meeting the requirements of that statute.
This was an appeal against a decision by Foskett J that the regulations were lawful. The two appellants were unemployed and claiming the Jobseekers’s Allowance. After refusing to participate in schemes under the Regulations in which they were required to work for no pay ( the Sector-Based Work Academy in Miss Reilly’s case and the Community Action Programme (CAP) in Mr Wilson’s), they were told that they risked losing their allowance. Continue reading →
C.N. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 4239/08 – HEJUD  ECHR 1911 – read judgment here.
The European Court of Human Rights recently held that the UK was in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to have specific legislation in place which criminalised domestic slavery.
Thankfully Article 4 cases (involving slavery and forced labour) are rare in the UK. Indeed this is only the fifth post on this blog about Article 4, which perhaps shows just how few and far between they are, and the UK has a proud history of seeking to prevent slavery. Although British merchants and traders, to their great shame, played a major part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the 1600s and 1700s, Britain was then at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery from 1807 onwards and the common law has always considered slavery to be abhorrent (as the famous case of ex parte Somersettin 1772 made clear).
Tragically, however, slavery has not been consigned to the history books. Across the world new forms of slavery are prevalent. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are a minimum of 12.3 million people in forced labour worldwide, and one particular form of modern slavery – human trafficking – is one of the fastest-growing forms of human rights abuse. The UK, as a major destination country for trafficking victims, is not immune from this trend.
There are three cases, among the many decided by the Court in the past few weeks, which I would like to highlight. They deal with testimony potentially obtained through torture, forced labour and extraordinary rendition respectively.
The first is the case of El Haski v. Belgium (available only in French). It deals with a terrorist suspect against whom evidence obtained in Morocco during legal proceedings there (following the 2003 Casablanca bombings) was used in court in Belgium. It was unclear whether such evidence was in fact obtained by means of torture. The Court held that it was sufficient for exclusion of such evidence from trial in an ECHR state party if a suspect could show that there was a “real risk” that such evidence had been obtained by treatment contrary to Article 3. The case builds on the recent Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom judgment, from January of this year. In this case, such a real risk existed. The refusal by Belgian courts to exclude the evidence thus led to a violation of the right to a fair trial (Article 6 ECHR).
R.P. and others v United Kingdom (9 October 2012) – read judgment
The day before our seminar on the Court of Protection and the right to autonomy, the Strasbourg Court has ruled on a closely related issue in a fascinating challenge to the role of the Official Solicitor in making decisions on behalf of individuals who are for one reason or another unable to act for themselves.
The Official Solicitor acts for people who, because they lack mental capacity and cannot properly manage their own affairs, are unable to represent themselves and no other suitable person or agency is able and willing to act. This particular case involved child care proceedings, but the question before the Court was the vital one that arises out of any situation where an individual is deemed to have lost capacity to represent his or her own interests in court. What the parties asked the Court to consider was whether
the appointment of the Official Solicitor in the present case was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued or whether it impaired the very essence of R.P.’s right of access to a court. Continue reading →
The Court of Appeal has increased the sentences of two human traffickers from 3 to 4 years and upheld the 3 year sentence of a third trafficker (despite her mental health problems) for systematic and well-planned exploitation of trafficked restaurant workers.
The offenders, Shahnawaz Ali Khan, Raza Ali Khan and their mother Perveen Khan, were family restaurateurs in Harrogate. Over a period of four years they recruited nine men from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent to work in the restaurant. All the workers entered the country legally on non-EEA work permits, after the offenders made assurances of good pay and working conditions to both the workers and the Home Office.
R v M(L) and others  EWCA Crim 2327;  WLR(D) 266 – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) has provided further guidance to prosecutors on whether or not they should bring charges against victims of human trafficking who go on to commit crimes. In the same judgment, the Court considered the extent of the obligation on the police to refer such victims to specialist agencies.
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