Children and adult victims of modern slavery are at risk of avoidable criminal convictions because their enslaved status is not raised in their defence, the Law Society has said.
Traffickers routinely force victims of modern slavery to commit immigration infringements, and they may also be compelled to take part in other criminal activity. Law Society president Simon Davis said: ‘Legal professionals need to be able to recognise and protect children or adults they come across who are victims of modern slavery.’
The warning comes as the Society publishes advice for solicitors on modern slavery. Its advice stresses the need for solicitors to spot the signs that a client may be enslaved, as not all will provide information on their status. ‘Someone who is enslaved may not trust the legal system and may have strong reasons to wish to conceal their status from solicitors or the authorities,’ Davis added. ‘Solicitors may encounter victims in criminal, immigration, mental health, children and protection or safeguarding work. The legal situation and a solicitor’s professional obligations in these circumstances may be particularly complex, even more so when the victim is a minor.’
The advice, contained in a practice note, details warning signs that may help solicitors recognise victims. Scenarios covered include victims who are subject to forced, bonded and child labour, forced marriage and forced commercial sex acts.
‘The legal situation and a solicitor’s professional obligations in these circumstances may be particularly complex, even more so when the victim is a minor,’ Davis said.
A 2014 study by the Home Office suggested that there were between 10,000 to 15,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, although the former anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland has described the figure as ‘far too modest’.
The Law Society’s practice note will be published on Monday.