An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, published on Wednesday, highlighted failures to protect victims from prosecution for acts they have been forced to carry out whilst held in slavery and concurred with evidence submitted by NGOs that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was “too heavily influenced and constricted by Government”. It found that support for victims of modern slavery and trafficking was inadequate and more needed to be done to protect them.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is ostensibly designed to increase prosecutions of traffickers and support victims of trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, and contains a statutory defence for those who have carried out criminal acts as a result of their trafficking. However, the Independent Review has found failings in both the legislation and in how and to what extent it is applied.
The review’s respective concerns about victims receiving criminal convictions and the need for independence from the government echo our report published in November 2018. The research detailed the histories of 13 Vietnamese men who had survived trafficking and were supported by JRS UK while held in immigration detention. All of them had been forced to work in cannabis factories and had received criminal convictions. Having been transferred to detention following prison sentences, they were kept in detention on the grounds of their criminal convictions. The report found that prioritisation of immigration control over victim support was a key factor in the men’s continued detentions.
Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK, said, “This report is further evidence that we are seriously failing in our duty to protect those who have been subjected to trafficking. At JRS UK, we regularly support victims held indefinitely in immigration detention, often even after they have been referred into the mechanism that is supposed to protect them. Urgent action is required.”
The Act established the role of Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and includes tougher sentences for traffickers. The Independent Review was set up last year to examine the working of the Act and explore ways to improve it. It found that there was very little support for victims once they had been through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the system designed for identifying victims, which has a 45-day recovery period inbuilt for those found to be likely victims. JRS UK has worked with a victim of trafficking who spent his entire recovery period in detention.
The first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland resigned in 2018, citing insufficient independence from the Home Office in his resignation letter.