Modern slavery has a devastating effect on its victims, and we are committed to prosecuting these crimes.
If someone accused of a crime claims they are a victim of modern slavery and should not be prosecuted because they committed the offence as a consequence, or because they were compelled to do so - the CPS rightly works with police to examine these claims thoroughly.
Our prosecutors are trained to look at the evidence provided by police investigations, which is vital as it can be used to disprove a suspect’s claim that they are a victim, or to point to who is directing them to commit crimes.
The CPS position is that a case should not be dropped simply because a suspect or defendant had claimed they were the victim of modern slavery and had received a positive decision from the National Referral Mechanism as these decisions are based on a balance of probabilities.
Instead we would test the evidence, if necessary before a jury by proceeding to trial.
There are numerous Court of Appeal judgments which back up that stance and show our willingness not to end a case just because a modern slavery defence has been put forward.
In the case of R v DS for example, a 17-year-old county lines drug dealer claimed that he was a victim of Modern Slavery and feared violence. He had received a positive NRM decision and this led to the defence submitting that it would be an abuse of process if the prosecution were allowed to continue. The CPS opposed the defence submission, but the trial judge stopped the trial and stayed proceedings. The CPS successfully challenged that decision at the Court of Appeal, and the precedent it may have set. During the appeal hearing on 26 February 2020, Mr Douglas-Jones QC, representing the CPS, said the evidential bar to be designated as a victim of modern slavery, often made before any evidence is heard or tested, was a low one and can be ‘untested, self-serving, and based on hearsay evidence.’
That decision did not mean that the CPS will always challenge claims that someone is a victim of modern slavery. But the judgment did confirm that prosecutors should assess and make their own judgment about NRM decisions, and are allowed to proceed with a prosecution where other evidence showed the defendant may not be a victim of modern slavery, or that their victimhood was not relevant to the crime they committed.
As a result of the Court of Appeal’s ruling, the defendant, now 18, was ordered to stand trial, and pleaded guilty on the day of the trial.
If cases have been dropped after a positive National Referral Mechanism decision was made it should be because of other factors which on their own, or together, mean there is not a reasonable prospect of conviction.
There may be other aspects of the case that a prosecutor is required to take into account when deciding whether to commence or continue a prosecution which are entirely unrelated to the National Referral Mechanism, for example witness withdrawal, medical evidence, or other guilty pleas.