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Increasing the use of Part 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

One estimate says there are 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the United Kingdom. Men, women and children are all victims.

As the Modern Slavery Act 2015 approaches its seventh birthday, slavery, in the words of the Home Secretary, “has not gone away”. Only this month [February 2022], the Times reported that a modern-day version of “Fagin’s urchins” were being exploited by a criminal gang who coached and exploited teenage girls across the UK.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for gain. It covers sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced labour. Victims are often tricked or threatened into the situation they find themselves in and may feel unable to report the crime through fear or intimidation. Sometimes, victims don’t recognise themselves as a victim.

Forced labour in the UK can be found across various sectors, including shellfish and food packaging, car washes, nail bars, driveway paving, construction, agriculture, and food processing.

Examples of modern slavery are everywhere:

  • Foreign victims trafficked to the UK, lured by false promises of jobs, have been forced to work in the sex industry. 
  • British and foreign children have been groomed and given drugs before being forced into sexual exploitation.
  • Victims of domestic servitude have been exploited by their partner, partner’s family or relatives.
  • A gang master supplied workers to a chicken farm producing eggs for major supermarkets. They were not paid minimum wage, had deductions made from their wages, were made to live in squalid conditions, and were threatened or assaulted for complaining. 
  • 11 members of a UK family were convicted for forcing 18 victims to work for little or no pay for their property repair business and for making them live in sub-standard conditions.
  • Vietnamese children have been trafficked and enslaved to work in UK cannabis farms.
  • A group of Filipino domestic workers were exploited and abused by their employers in London.
  • Gangs have used children to deliver drugs, as they are more easily controlled, using a range of techniques including intimidation, debt bondage, violence and grooming.
  • 18 individuals were convicted of sexual abuse and trafficking for sexual exploitation in a case involving 700 women and girls who were sexually abused around Newcastle.

Judging by these few examples, eradicating modern slavery is a moral imperative and continues to be a priority for the Government.

Prosecutions for modern slavery offences

As the funding available to law enforcement agencies has increased, so too has the number of successful modern slavery investigations and prosecutions, with the number of referrals to the CPS increasing by 20% over the last year. Despite the increase in referrals, there was a 23.5% reduction in the number of prosecutions. As the National Police Chiefs’ Council have made clear, this backlog is extremely damaging for victims as it undermines the chances of a successful prosecution.

In a call to arms, Shaun Sawyer QPM, Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall and National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on modern slavery and organised immigration crime has said, “it is now essential that ways are found for the courts to overcome the backlog”. As we know all too well, the longer a case goes on, the harder it is to rely on witnesses to attend court and recollect events. This is even more so when the witness is the victim of modern slavery.

Part 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Whilst nothing can replace the success a conviction brings, Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (‘STPO') and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders (‘STRO’) continue to be under-utilised. In the most recent figures available, only 147 STPOs and 60 STROs had been obtained by 32 of the 45 agencies that can obtain them. Some forces may use other legislation and partner agencies to secure prevention orders, but it still means that almost 29% of those that can use these powers do not.

STPOs and STROs were introduced in Part 2 of the Act and are designed to prevent slavery and human trafficking offences from being committed. They are civil preventative orders that are tailored to the case, imposing restrictions the court deems necessary to protect the public from harm or risk of harm. If the court is unable to determine an application for an STPO or STRO it will consider imposing an interim order if it is just to do so. Breach of an order, or an interim order, is a serious offence, carrying a maximum five-year custodial sentence.

One way of increasing the use of STROs and STPOs is for those investigating modern slavery offences to consider whether an order should be sought at the start of every modern slavery investigation. If an order is thought to be beneficial, it should be pursued. There is nothing to stop a STPO or STRO application running alongside a criminal investigation. Under a similar preventative order regime (the Stalking Protection Act 2019), Stalking Protection Orders often do, with interim orders being sought at the outset which remain in place until the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

STPOs and STROs are not a substitute for a prosecution when sufficient evidence is available, but they can be a useful tool to control the behaviour of individuals who may cause harm to others. Modern slavery offences are cruel and exploit the most vulnerable. Increasing the use of these orders will go some way to ensuring that the most vulnerable are given the protection they need, and the UK will continue its fight to eradicate modern slavery.

To find out more about how our team of experts can advise on such orders, contact Chris Wilkinson directly.