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18 October 2021

New sentencing guidelines for slavery, forced labour, and human trafficking offences

3 mins

New sentencing guidelines came into force this month for criminal offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA).

Although the MSA sets a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the more serious offences, until now there have been no specific guidelines for judges and magistrates to follow when sentencing those convicted under the Act.

The main offences are:

  • Holding a person in slavery or servitude or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour (section 1 MSA).
  • Arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to them being exploited i.e. human trafficking (section 2 MSA).

The guidelines provide an incredibly broad sentencing range from a high-level community order to 18 years imprisonment.

Sentences will be based on the judge’s assessment of the defendant’s culpability, as well as the level of harm caused by their offending. Aggravating or mitigating factors specific to the case or personal to the defendant may result in a sentence being increased or decreased from the starting point.

The assessment of culpability takes into account the type of role played by the defendant – whether it was a leading role, significant role or a role performed under pressure or coercion which may include defendants who were themselves victims of slavery or trafficking. It will also take into account the level of financial or material gain, and whether threats of physical or sexual violence were used towards victims or their families.

The assessment of harm takes into account the level of physical or psychological harm caused to the victim. The highest level of harm is reserved for defendants who exposed victims to a high risk of death or whose conduct caused an extreme impact on the victims. The lowest level of harm covers circumstances where the impact on the victims is limited.

In addition to sentences, the court has the power to impose a Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order that imposes any restriction the Court deems necessary for the purposes of protecting the public from harm.

A Slavery and Trafficking Reparation Order can also be imposed following confiscation proceedings. This requires defendants convicted of modern day slavery offences to pay compensation to their victims.

With non-custodial sentences only being a realistic prospect for defendants who caused little harm and were themselves victims of slavery, trafficking or coercion, it is clear that we can expect to see sentences increase as a result of these guidelines.

Our Criminal Defence Team are experts in modern day slavery offences. If you require advice , please complete our enquiry form, or call the direct line number to speak to our specialist team on +44 (0)20 7014 2020.

In the case of emergency, call +44 (0)20 7305 5638 for our out of hours police station assistance. We will discuss your case with you during a preliminary consultation and advise you on the nature of any police investigation, or the case against you if you have been charged.

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