Modern Slavery Act 2015: Under Review

18 October 2018

Since its implementation, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“the MSA”) has not only increased public and corporate awareness of slavery in the modern day but has focused the government’s and Crown Prosecution Service’s (“CPS”) attention and resources towards fighting people trafficking, modern slavery, organised immigration crime and forced labour. For Anti-Slavery Day, Thursday 18 October, We take a look back at recent developments over the past year.

International Focus on Modern Slavery

Following on from Theresa May’s global call at the 2017 UN General Assembly for greater cooperation in the fight against modern slavery, the year started off with a three-day international summit on modern slavery led by DPP Alison Saunders. The conference, held in February 2018, was attended by the DPP for Northern Ireland, the Lord Advocate for Scotland, prosecutors from 15 European countries, Nigeria, Albania, Sudan, Argentina, and representatives from Eurojust, Interpol, Europol, the NCA and the police. With a focus on developing international cooperation to secure and retain evidence key to modern slavery prosecutions, summit attendees were able to better understand cross-border international practices.

This strengthening of international efforts was recently bolstered by the UK’s development with the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, of four overarching principles to adopt when seeking to tackle modern slavery in global supply chains:

  • Taking steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices;
  • Encouraging the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains;
  • Advancing responsible recruitment policies and practices – such as by implementing policies which incentivise and support responsible practice and contribute to growing the knowledge base surrounding the recruitment process; and
  • Harmonising practices across governments by aligning existing and proposed laws, regulations and policies.

Home Office Report

July 2018 saw the Home Office published its Research Report into the economic and social costs of modern slavery. Whilst the ability to ‘cost’ these crimes was not an exact science, the report explained the importance of embarking on this process so that attempts could be made to better understand the value of preventative action.

Second only to homicide in the unit cost of crimes, the total cost of modern slavery in the year leading up to March 2018 was assessed to be up to £4.3bn. The writers concluded that this significant figure demonstrated the importance for policy makers to treat modern slavery as a high priority with consequent recommendations for early preventative interventions; achievable by increasing public awareness so the UK public can have a role in identifying potential victims and training frontline workers to identify the signs.

Home Affairs Committee Inquiry, the Independent Review and NRM

In July 2018 the Home Affairs Committee announced that it was going to review the MSA to see what progress had been made since its implementation and what changes still needed to be made. Amongst those who responded to the Committee’s call for evidence was the Co-op Group, which asked for stronger MSA measures, encompassing transparency and sanctions for non-compliance, to be introduced.

Shortly after the Home Affairs Committee revealed its inquiry, the government announced that it had, independently, commissioned a review of the MSA to be led by Frank Field MP, Maria Miller MP and Baroness Butler-Sloss. The reviewers are expected to make their recommendations to the Home Secretary by March 2019, during which they will consider the following specific MSA provisions:

  • Section 3 in respect of the meaning of “exploitation”: For example how it relates to ‘county lines’ (the supply of drugs by urban dealers to outside areas) and orphanage trafficking.
  • Sections 8 to 10 on reparation order: To include an assessment of how to ensure legal remedies are made available to victims and whether a specific civil wrong would provide them with access to compensation.
  • Sections 40 to 44: Namely how to ensure the independence of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
  • Section 45 regarding the statutory defence: Assessing how to balance the protection this provides victims from prosecution against non-victims abusing this defence to evade a conviction.
  • Section 48: The reviewers have been asked to address how to ensure the right support is provided for child victims.
  • Section 54 on transparency in supply chains: Namely addressing how to ensure compliance by companies, to minimise the risk that the goods and services available in the UK are produced through forced labour and slavery, and how the quality of the statements produced can be improved.

The Home Office is also in the process of reforming the National Referral Mechanism (“NRM”), which is the multi-agency system used to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery. This is in order to develop the processes involved in identifying victims and improve support for them before, during and after their engagement with the NRM.

The view from the CPS

Following on from these developments, in August 2018 the CPS released its 2017-2018 Report (“the report”) in which it firmly set out its commitment to fulfilling the quadripartite objectives of the MSA: to pursue, prevent, prepare and protect. Demonstrating its focus, the CPS revealed that a Chief Crown Prosecutor for modern slavery, Siobhan Blake, had been appointed to lead on modern slavery and ensure there was consistency across the CPS.

The report revealed various statistics which included that in the past year, 239 positive modern slavery charging decisions had been made – up from 188 the previous year. The conviction rate also increased from 61.4% in 2016-17 to 65.1% in 2017-18. These successes led in one case of trafficking to a confiscation order of £16,500 and a £10,000 reparation order. Those figures were likely to rise further, as the scope of acts pursued under the slavery umbrella steadily increased, with current referrals encompassing reports of vulnerable, often young, people being exploited by drug networks across the country. Whilst those figures were increasing, so was the time it was taking to bring and conclude a case, with the current average being 3 years.

The report made clear however, that whilst they had taken steps to ensure there was better understanding and cooperation across the field of investigators and prosecutors of modern slavery issues, the need to continue to build and work on its overseas partnerships was crucially important to ensuring it was able to implement the government’s strategy. Measures in this regard had already been taken: greater collaboration between various agencies from the outset and organised training events and coordination with prosecutors, the police, Joint Investigation Teams (a team of investigators and prosecutors from at least two EU Member States, established where a crime is committed in more than one country), Europol and Eurojust, amongst others. This has enabled a growth in successful prosecutions whilst ensuring, through increased engagement between prosecutors and investigators seeking early investigative advice (“EIA”), potentially costly investigations which are unable to meet the charging threshold are stopped at an early stage.

The Year Ahead

It is clear that businesses, government and law enforcement are keenly engaged in reviewing and improving upon existing practices and procedures to tackle modern slavery in a more effective and efficient way. This focus, combined with law enforcement’s efforts to understand the various types of modern slavery and to approach prosecutions in a more sophisticated multi-agency way, demonstrates that this developing area of regulation will only continue to grow exponentially.

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