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Out-Law News 1 min. read

Prosecutors record spike in modern slavery cases

There was a 27% rise in the number of cases in which charges were brought against people suspected of modern slavery offences last year, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales.

In a new report, the CPS revealed (11-page / 1.03MB PDF) that there were 239 suspects charged with modern slavery offences in 2017/18, up from 188 the year before. In total, there were successful convictions for modern slavery and human trafficking offences in 185 cases in 2017/18, it said.

Modern slavery' is an umbrella term which includes the offences of human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including sexual or criminal exploitation.

Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions in England and Wales, said: "Modern slavery has a devastating, lasting impact on its victims. There is no place in our society for those who enslave others, whether for work, sexual or criminal exploitation or domestic servitude. We are working in partnership with police and other partners from the outset to make sure we can build robust cases and deliver justice for victims."

According to Saunders, the CPS has been giving its prosecutors "extensive extra training" in response to the growth in "size and complexity" of modern slavery cases. That complexity is reflected by the information in the CPS' report which revealed that it now takes twice as long – nearly three years on average – to complete a modern slavery prosecution from the point an offence takes place than it did in 2015.

This "reflects the challenges in investigating and prosecuting such cases, with greater complexities, multiple defendants and multiple victims", the CPS said.

In the UK, organisations with a turnover or group turnover of £36 million or more which are either incorporated in the UK or carry on a business in the UK must report annually on the steps that they have taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their own business or in their supply chains. That requirement is set out in the Modern Slavery Act.

Last month the UK government commissioned a review of the Modern Slavery Act. The review will in part look at "what more can be done to strengthen" the corporate reporting requirements and "minimise the risk that the goods and services available in the UK are produced through forced labour and slavery", the Home Office said at the time.

Neil Carslaw of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, who helps businesses comply with their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act, said: "From a corporate perspective, this announcement highlights that modern slavery is not an issue confined to complex global supply chains – offences are happening here in the UK. Companies should be conscious of their current transparency reporting obligations under section 54 of the Act and alert to the risks posed not only by both by international suppliers and also by supply chains contained in the UK."

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