Slavery is unfortunately not a thing of the past. It occurs today and affects an estimated 29.8 million people worldwide. In 2013 there were 90 UK nationals who were the victims of modern day slavery, taken from this country against their will or deceived as to what was happening and forced to work as a slave abroad. There are also hundreds if not thousands of victims each year trafficked into the UK, promised they will be lifted from poverty, limited economic opportunities or war into a more prosperous life in this country. When they arrive, the reality is very different, often involving physical or sexual abuse, being sold to other traffickers and then forced to work illegally in different sectors including the sex trade, cannabis factories / farms and many other criminal activities.
As criminal defence solicitors we often have to try and assist those victims who have been arrested for criminal offences. Whilst there are clear guidelines for the authorities, including the police, to assist these people, often they are not believed and they are charged with criminal offences and the system fails them. We have examples of cases in which we have acted and assisted the victims in applying to the Home Office to investigate fully and treat them as a victim as opposed to a criminal. One such recent case involved a child from Vietnam who had been brought to the UK having been promised a future with work and better conditions than at home. Despite his desperate history being explained to the police they simply ignored him and prosecuted him for the criminal offence for which he had been arrested. However, following robust representations made to the Court the Prosecuting Authorities were forced to investigate his plight. The Home Office concluded that our client was the victim of Modern Slavery, the criminal charges were dropped and the client received assistance and has now been treated as a victim, not a criminal.
It is very important that solicitors are able to recognise the signs of modern slavery which the Home Office list as follows:
- Poor physical appearance
- Poor living conditions
- Few or no personal effects
- Restricted Freedom of movement
- Unusual travel times
- Reluctance to seek help
If these signs are overlooked the plight of these victims of crime are compounded, resulting in convictions in the UK for offences which they are forced to commit. If you have concerns about this, agencies such as the NSPCC and Salvation Army have the experience to assist with providing food, clothing and accommodation whilst the Home Office resolves the position for the individual. However, if you are accused of a crime in these circumstances always seek the advice of an experienced solicitor.