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Victims of modern slavery to be further protected from prosecution by earlier investigation


Victims of modern slavery will be identified earlier in criminal investigations - saving them from being wrongly prosecuted – as prosecutors reinforce best working practices in new legal guidance published today.

The CPS has previously carefully considered the claim of suspects who say they have offended because they were trafficked. Today’s change shifts the focus of this to before a suspect is charged and reminds prosecutors to be alert to the full situation and vigilant to potential indicators of trafficking.

The guidance says that where someone is suspected or claims to be a victim of modern slavery – that they were coerced or directed to commit a crime as a result – as far as possible police or law enforcement will need to fully investigate suspects’ situations before the CPS will be able to make a charging decision.

It is expected that the updated Modern Slavery guidance, which is based on the experience of prosecutors over the past few years, will help to continue to increase the number of prosecutions of criminals exploiting modern slaves, while safeguarding against the criminalising of trafficked victims.

Investigations into whether a person is a victim of modern slavery are often raised after charge, which often delays the progression of cases and increases the number of court appearances and adjournments while they were followed up.

The changes will mean that prosecutors can make more informed decisions at point of charge, and reduce the number of cases where a claim is made halfway through a prosecution.

Lynette Woodrow, CPS lead for modern slavery, said: “Modern slavery victims who are often given little or no choice but to follow orders by unscrupulous criminals should not usually be prosecuted for their actions.

“We have seen that by identifying early these victims forced to commit crimes they can be given the support and protection they need, while those exploiting them face justice.

“This practice is working well and we are setting it out for the first time in this updated legal guidance as a result of the positive impact our prosecutors have seen it makes.

“Working with the police in this way will continue to help save court time by reducing the number of adjournments while claims are raised and investigated as well as help increase in modern slavery prosecutions.”

When the facts around a victim are investigated early, others who should be held responsible can be identified.

The updated legal guidance, which is published so that the public can see and understand the considerations behind our decision-making, also:  

  • Points to practical support for victims and witnesses, and the ability to run victim-less prosecutions where they do not need to give evidence in court. 
  • Reminds of other special measures to support trafficked victims, including the use of virtual recorded interviews which can be played in court to a jury. 
  • Highlights video links for victims who have chosen to return to their home countries so that they can still give evidence if needed. 
  • Reiterates the right of prosecutors to disagree with a finding of decision-makers in the Single Competent Authority that someone was trafficked, where it is necessary to do so and encourages prosecutors to make clear the evidence upon which they have challenged the decision. 

Last year the CPS prosecuted 335 modern slavery cases, an increase on the year before, with a conviction rate of 74.4%*.

Notes to editors

  • The law in section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 does not give people who have been trafficked blanket immunity. They will still face prosecution for the most serious crimes, including murder, terrorism, serious violence, or sexual crimes.
  • Prosecutors have to show a connection between the trafficking and the crime they commit and assess how culpable they may be.
  • The guidance also says that where a decision-maker in the Single Competent Authority makes a decision on the balance of probabilities that a defendant is a victim of modern slavery, the jury should not hear that automatically, although the evidence that led to the decision can be heard, and tested if necessary, in court.
  • The CPS has committed to providing early investigative advice (EIA) – guidance on the evidence that would be required to support a prosecution – in all modern slavery cases, and has seen an increase in cases referred for EIA.
  • Prosecutors can help build robust cases, removing the burden from vulnerable victims from giving evidence in court, by bringing evidence-led prosecutions.
  • Prosecutors dealing with the magistrates' and Crown Courts are trained to spot the signs of modern slavery. Any potential defendant can be a victim. The CPS has also contributed to guidance for the police, including force solicitors, magistrates, youth offender teams, the Law Society and the Bar.
  • While Modern Slavery Act offences are useful in tackling this type of crime, they are not always the most appropriate offence to charge. The CPS also use a range of other offences in these cases including drugs offences, organised immigration crime, rape, child sexual abuse and other serious crime types. Prosecutors will select the most appropriate offence in accordance with the facts of the case and supported by evidence but which give the court sufficient sentencing powers to reflect the full criminality.
  • In cases involving multiple defendants trafficking multiple victims, the CPS is more likely to prosecute such cases for conspiracy to commit a Modern Slavery Act offence which will not be counted as an offence under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 or other trafficking legislation.
  •  Of the modern slavery cases referred to us by police in 2020/21 where the CPS made a decision, we prosecuted 81 per cent (335 cases) an increase on the two years before, and with a conviction rate of 73.9%.

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