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Court of Appeal overturns conviction in human trafficking case, R v AJW

Published:

On 29 June 2023 the Court of Appeal Criminal Division (Carr LCJ, Jay J and Sir Nigel Davis) quashed the 2014 conviction of a human trafficking victim who, when she was a child aged 16, was tried as an adult for conspiring to secure the avoidance of immigration enforcement action by deception.

The case confirms that the test in R v AAD [2022] 1 WLR 4042 and R v AFU [2023] EWCA Crim 23 modern slavery abuse of process cases may be satisfied even where a defendant has pleaded not guilty and given evidence in their defence at a trial, if the appeal court determines it was unfair to try them altogether.

The Appellant was a victim of Female Genital Mutilation who fled her home at the age of nine and was forced to marry a much older man.  She had been taken in and educated by a man who sexually abused her until she was 15.  He trafficked her into sex work in the UK before there was an attempt to traffic her to Italy for further sexual exploitation.  She then agreed to marry a man in his 40s when she was still only 15, but was arrested and prosecuted in Wales.  In fact she had been a victim of trafficking in Nigeria and the UK and had been compelled to enter the sham marriage by the putative husband.  During her criminal trial, she maintained she had been 15 at the time of the alleged offence and was forced to enter the marriage, but no age assessment was arranged and the Crown maintained she was in her twenties. Following her conviction she claimed asylum. She was referred into the National Referral Mechanism but received a negative conclusive grounds decision, which was eventually successfully judicially review in the proceedings in R (MN) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (AIRE Centre and another intervening) [2020] EWCA Civ 1746; [2021] 1 WLR 1956.

In her criminal appeal the Crown contended that the marriage was sham, but nevertheless accepted the conviction was unsafe because it had been unfair to try her as an adult with none of the requisite safeguards for human trafficking victims, including an age assessment. Her conviction was therefore unsafe.

James Robottom, led by Ben Douglas-Jones KC and instructed by Philippa Southwell of Southwell and Partners, represented AJW.