May 2015

Making law, well interesting                                                                                          Dr Joe Stevens

The present government has not been slow in adding law after law to the statute books many of them riveting reading as you can imagine, however at the end of March the Modern Slavery Act 2015 became law and looks set to change the way this abhorrent crime is investigated and dealt with. For the first time the Government will introduce an Anti-slavery Commissioner and there will be greater protection offered for the victims of trafficking as well as two new sets of Orders.

Slavery in all forms is outlawed under many laws and international Conventions, yet it still appears to be prevalent in many areas of the world including the UK. Whilst it is true that you are unlikely to see many people being led about in chains the fact is that many are subjected to coercion and force for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labour.

The new Act creates specific offences of holding someone in slavery or servitude or requiring them to work or perform forced labour. This section also adds lots of victim protection including allowing the court to make a determination based on all the circumstances of whether slavery or servitude has taken place, this even included if the victim appears to have consented. This offers extra protection to the most vulnerable who may be subjected to this form of abuse without appreciating their own circumstances.

The Act also creates offences in relation to Human Tracking of facilitating the travel of the victim if that person is going to be exploited even if the victim consents to that travel. This offence can be committed anywhere and gives far reaching powers for the authorities to deal with those involved in the travel arrangements of trafficked persons. Penalties for this can range up to 10 years imprisonment, extended to life if any sort of kidnap is involved.

The Courts now have the powers to make two types of orders under the Act. The first, Slavery and Trafficking Reparation Orders can force those convicted to pay compensation to their victims.  It also allows for the Courts to seize assets they believe have been gained as a result of slavery or Trafficking. Furthermore for those convicted of the relevant offences the Courts now have the power to issue Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders. These give the Courts wide powers to restrict the behaviour of the offender in order to prevent any further offending and harm to victims and can include restricting travel and requiring the offender to supply their name and address to the authorities for years after their conviction. There is also the equivalent Slavery or Trafficking Risk Order for those not convicted but the Court believe may offend or be at risk of offending in the future.

Finally the Act introduces the Office of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner an independent Commissioner appointed by the Home Secretary their main function is to encourage good practice in the investigation and prosecution of offenders as well as identifying victims of slavery and Trafficking. The commissioner is expected to work with a number of agencies and produce reports on the Slavery and Trafficking situation within the UK. Although a new office the Commissioner is expected to produce as soon as is practicable a strategic plan setting out the aims of the office. Obviously this is a new role but it has the potential amongst other things to be a powerful voice for those subjected to these heinous crimes.

The Act is still hot of the press but will be of interest to those who study both the Criminal and Human Rights law, we wait to see how it works in practice.

Dr Joe Stevens
Senior Lecturer in Law
LLM Course Leader

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