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Modern slavery, forced labour and servitude

Solicitors experienced in defending allegations of modern slavery ( Manchester & London)

Investigations and prosecutions in relation to offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 are on the increase.

Definition of modern slavery

An offence is committed if:

  1. the person holds another person in slavery or servitude and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is held in slavery or servitude, or
  2. the person requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is being required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

A proactive approach to defending modern slavery allegations

At Olliers we have substantial experience in defending allegations relating to modern-day slavery. We are frequently instructed during the investigation stage of a case. We appreciate that these matters are complex and frequently much of what is alleged is capable of contradiction.

In certain cases, complaints have been made to the police by disgruntled employees. There may be a complaint from one employee who describes conditions of slavery which are exaggerated or untrue and it may be necessary to speak to other employees who are able to contradict what is alleged and who may be perfectly happy with their conditions of employment.

We may be able to show through social media, text activity or witness statements that much of what is alleged is untrue.

Defence engagement with investigators

We will liaise with investigators through the process, drawing to their attention weaknesses in their case and in particular material which points away from our client’s involvement in any offence. We may obtain witness statements that support the defence.

We will remind the prosecution of their obligation to consider material provided by and representations made by the defence.

Evidence in modern slavery cases

No one case is the same and in considering whether a person has been held in conditions of slavery or servitude or required to form forced or compulsory labour all the circumstances will be considered. This may include the alleged victim’s circumstances, age, health, vulnerability, issues of consent, and the nature of work undertaken.

There may be allegations of violence or threats of violence against a person or their family. Movement may have been restricted or passports or other documents retained. Wages may not have been paid. It is often alleged that threats were made to expose an individual to the authorities.

The prosecution will also look at other factors relating to employment. This often includes false promises about the nature of work, dangerous conditions, excessive hours, unexplained deductions from wages, substandard accommodation, and payments to traffickers. There may be allegations of complainants being humiliated, threatened or insulted.

An alleged victim does not have to have been trafficked for the offence to be made out. This offence can be used in cases where the victim has been exploited in accordance with the ECHR definition but was not trafficked, or the trafficking element cannot be proved to the criminal standard.

Investigations into slavery and servitude offences can also cover pre-existing offences such as false imprisonment, assault, and blackmail. The difference is that with offences under the Modern Slavery Act, prosecutors can look at all the behaviour relating to servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Notwithstanding this, prosecutors should also consider charging specific offences in addition to the offence where appropriate (for example where the person has been physically assaulted while subjected to forced labour).

Sentencing modern slavery

The sentencing council recently published brand new sentencing guidelines to take effect on 1 October 2021.

In short, the guidelines relate firstly to the most serious offences under Modern Slavery Act 2015;  Section 1 and Section 2 which deal with:

  • Slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour (Section 1) 


  • Human trafficking (Section 2)

The maximum sentence for offences under section 1 and 2 is Life Imprisonment. 

The new guidelines provide structure to the sentencing exercise to be undertaken by the Judge;. 

At step 1 the Judge will determine the appropriate offence category which is essentially assessing the level of culpability of the defendant  – Category A = High, B= Medium or C = Low. 

High culpability will apply to those cases where the person plays a leading role with the expectation of substantial financial gain, where there was significant planning and where there may have been a threat of violence towards the victim or their family. 

Medium culpability will apply to those who occupy a significant role, where the person involves others in the offending through coercion or intimidation and that the person expected significant financial or other advantage. 

Low culpability is reserved to those defendants who have been engaged through pressure or intimidation, performing a limited function under direction of others and with an expectation of limited or no financial gain. 

The Judge will then look at the issue of harm to the victim: 

  • Category 1 is where the victim has been exposed to high risk of death. 
  • Category 2 offences can also be increased to cat 1 in extreme cases.  Cat 2 includes where there has been serious physical harm or psychological harm which is long lasting, or where the victim has been deceived  or forced into sexual activity
  • Category 3 are offences where there is some physical harm some financial loss, exposure to risk of harm
  • Category 4 are the lowest level where there is limited harm and limited financial loss.

Step 2 brings culpability and harm together. 

At the high end, a CAT 1A offence will have a starting point of 14 years with a range of 10-18 years. 

At the lowest end, a CAT4C offence has a starting point of 26 weeks with a range of high-level community order to 18 months custody. 

It should be noted that section 1 and 2 offences specified offences which lead to an extended custodial element of 2/3 if the sentence is 7 years or more.  In extreme cases a life sentence is possible if the court considers that the defendant to be dangerous and that it is appropriate to impose a life sentence (ss273, 274, 283 285 of the sentencing code). 

The sentencing guidelines coming into force on 1 October also cover the offences of committing an offence with intent to commit a human trafficking offence (Modern Slavery Act s4), Breach of a Slavery Trafficking order/ Breach of a slavery and trafficking risk order. 

At Olliers we have experience in dealing with such cases and we will offer a thorough and professional service in advising and defending clients facing such charges. 

Funding your case

During the investigation stage of a case, no funding is available and we undertake these cases on a privately funded basis. If a prosecution is brought then in certain we can consider an application for legal aid.

Contact Olliers Solicitors

If you would like to discuss how we can proactively assist you in relation to your case, contact Matthew Claughton or Ruth Peters by telephone at 0161 8341515, or click here to send us a message.

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