Trafficking and Slavery
Slavery did not end in the 19th century: today trafficking, as a modern form of slavery, is the fastest growing crime globally. It is a grave human rights violation which threatens the human dignity and fundamental freedoms of its victims.
Members of Doughty Street Chambers have fought alongside others in the field of anti-trafficking to protect those rights, even before the entry into force of the specialist European Anti-Trafficking Convention (ECAT) in April 2009. For example, where trafficked children were denied care and accommodation because their age was unlawfully disputed (A v Croydon); and where the failure to identify a young Nigerian girl led to her wrongful prosecution (R v O).
The Court of Appeal said in R v O: “There was no fair trial. We hope that such a shameful set of circumstances never occurs again.” Unfortunately, those circumstances do persist, with significant numbers of victims not being identified and therefore remaining unprotected in situations of abuse and exploitation.
We have relied on Article 4 European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits slavery, forced labour and trafficking, in cases where the police and the Home Office have breached their positive duty to identify victims and investigate trafficking allegations (OOO and Atamewan); or by failing to release victims from detention despite there being indicators of trafficking (Y & Ors).
In 2013, the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive 2011/36 created a further source of enforceable rights for victims. The UK, despite public declarations in support of victims, has interpreted these obligations strictly to deny any duty owed to victims, unless a victim is involved in criminal (or compensation) proceedings. We are challenging this unlawful stance, to ensure victims have access to justice (Gudanaviciene v The Director of Legal Aid Casework & Or); are granted residence permits; and receive support based on individual needs and vulnerability.
Over the years, we have worked alongside others, advising in the UK and abroad on trafficking law and policy, most recently in 2014-5 on the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) which became law in March 2015. We also gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee (HL Paper 166, HC 1019). We are now working closely on brand new obligations incumbent on commercial organisations to tackle slavery and trafficking in supply chains.
Whether the MSA 2015 will achieve its intended aims remains to be seen. Protection gaps in law and policy must be plugged to achieve compliance with international trafficking obligations; and so we are continuing to challenge failures by the State to discharge existing duties towards victims.