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Can I use modern slavery as a defence to a crime?

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What is modern slavery?

An offence of Modern Slavery is committed when someone holds another in slavery or servitude or when another person is made to perform forced or compulsory labour.

What does modern slavery involve?

The person must know or ought to know that they are holding making someone work against their will and generally there is a level of exploitation.

Who might be the victim of modern slavery?

A victim of modern day slavery is likely to be vulnerable by nature of the situation they have found themselves in as they are used by another person for that person’s gain. There is likely to be elements of manipulation, coercion, threats or use of force and in some cases abuse of power by others so it is therefore important to consider the person’s personal circumstances.

Can I use being a victim of modern slavery as a defence to a crime?

Where a person has been forced to commit a crime by virtue of being a victim of modern slavery, they may be able to raise a defence under section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It is often used in “county lines cases”.

What is “County lines”

“County Lines” is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs.

Are there any offences where the modern day slavery defence cannot be used?

There are some crimes which the defence cannot be used for to including murder, manslaughter, false imprisonment, kidnapping, sexual offences amongst many others.

Who should I tell that I am a victim of modern slavery?

It is important that the defence is raised as early on as possible. If you have been arrested then where possible you should raise it in your police station interview.

The police will take into account the circumstances of the person at the time of their arrest and this may feed into the questioning by the officers during the police interview. A person who is a victim of modern slavery or involved in a county lines case may not be forthcoming with this information due to the fear that there may be consequences from those who were exploiting.

Once the Prosecution become aware that this may be an issue they must refer the case to the National Crime Agency to investigate.

What will need to be proved if relying on the section 45 defence?

The use of the defence varies depending on the age of the defendant and if they are over 18 years of age or are under 18. For a person over 18, it is necessary that the defendant show he or she was compelled to complete the criminal act and that a reasonable person would have no other alternative but to complete the act in the same circumstances.

If the defendant is under 18, the element of compulsion is omitted and the only proof is that the person committed the offence as a direct consequence of being a victim of slavery or servitude and a reasonable person would have committed the act in the same circumstances.

Will the case get dropped if someone is the victim of modern slavery ?

Prior to being charged with an offence, the police and the Criminal Prosecution Service will need to determine if they have enough evidence to prosecute the person and if it in the public interest as is standard with all crimes that are alleged to have been committed. At court, it will be for the defendant to raise the defence under section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act and may be important to show the court why they have raised this defence via their own account through oral evidence or expert evidence.

It will be for the prosecution to prove that the person was not a victim of modern slavery by “defeating” the defence. It may be beneficial to include any determinations made by the National Referral Mechanism as to if the defendant has been a victim of trafficking and this should be applied for as soon as possible.

It is important that if you seek to rely on any defence for a crime in which you are accused of, you seek legal advice as early as possible including at the police station.

Johnson Astills are experts modern day slavery cases and all aspects of criminal law, and are able to assist 24 hours of the day whether at the Police Station or at Court. If you need advice or assistance from the crime team@Johnson Astills, or please contact us on 0116 255 4855.