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Government concedes judicial review and promises wholesale reform to its system for providing support to victims of trafficking

Related Member(s):
Zoe McCallum, Chris Buttler
Related Practice Area(s):
Public Law

Two victims of modern slavery, NN and LP, have succeeded in persuading the government to reform the system for providing support to some of the most vulnerable people in the United Kingdom.

LP (trafficked and repeatedly raped) and NN (trafficked, held in slave conditions and badly beaten) were formally determined to be victims of trafficking via the Home Office’s National Referral Mechanism. Government policy is to provide confirmed victims of modern slavery and trafficking with accommodation at a safe house, payments of £65/week and the services of a support worker (who, for example, arranges and attends their medical appointments). That support is crucial in assisting victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery after being subjected to modern slavery – what Mostyn J described as “a repulsive, strikingly malignant practice, as damaging in its impact on its victims as was its historical predecessor”[i].

Until NN and LP brought this representative action, support was limited to a period of 45 days after a victim of modern slavery was determined so to be. After 45 days elapsed, the government’s policy was to automatically cease support, regardless of the victim’s needs. There was a system for providing discretionary extensions – but the criteria applied were unpublished, leaving support providers in the dark as to whether and when their clients could benefit. The “45 day rule” became known as a “cliff edge drop” owing to the well-documented and severe effects of the automatic cessation of support on highly vulnerable people. Fourteen[ii] expert bodies produced a report concluding that the cliff-edge drop “[left] survivors with little realistic opportunity to rebuild their lives, with some ending up destitute, vulnerable to further harm or even being re-exploited[iii]. GRETA, the European expert body which monitors compliance with the European Trafficking Convention, also called upon the government to ensure that victims’ support was provided according to need[iv]. Lord McColl introduced a bill to Parliament, urging the government to increase the support period. The government resisted the Bill as it passed through its stages in the House of Lords.

NN and LP, fearing their support would soon cease, brought judicial review proceedings challenging the legality of the 45 day-rule. They argued that the rule was contrary to the Trafficking Convention, which contemplates that the state’s support obligations, once arisen, continue unless or until a victim is returned to another state[v]. NN and LP also challenged the procedure for seeking an extension of support and the lack of published policy or criteria for this procedure. Mr Justice Julian Knowles granted them an interim injunction to freeze the 45 day rule pending trial – then continued it. On both occasions the government resisted the injunction, arguing that the system would be unable to cope with the influx of demand pending trial. Knowles J surveyed the evidence and rejected those claims.

Before the scheduled trial of their action, the government conceded the Claimants’ challenge. It reviewed the NRM system and “decided that changes are necessary to ensure that individual needs are adequately considered, recognizing that what [the Trafficking Convention] contemplates is necessary to assist with recovery may vary from individual to individual and cannot be de-limited by time alone”. Owing to this challenge, the government has now undertaken:

  • To “formulat[e] a sustainable replacement, needs-based system for supporting victims of trafficking”;
  • In the interim, not to re-introduce the 45-day Rule or to restrict support to victims only by reference to time; and
  • To reimburse the Claimants’ reasonable legal costs in bringing their challenge.

The parties agreed a consent order and statement of reasons, which is available to the public by application to the Court pursuant to CPR 5.4C.

The decision has been welcomed by charities supporting victims of modern slavery, many of which contributed important evidence to proceedings. An article in The Guardian is here, the Independent is here and in The Sun is here.

Matrix’s Chris Buttler and Zoe McCallum, along with Miranda Butler (of Garden Court), represented the Claimants, instructed by Duncan Lewis.

[i]K and AM v SSHD [2018] EWHC 2951 (Admin) at [1]

[ii] The Human Trafficking Foundation, The Sophie Hayes Foundation, The Jericho Foundation, Black Country Women’s Aid, The Adavu Project, Hestia, Helen Bamber Foundation, Hope for Justice, Unseen, The Anti- Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), Snowdrop Project, Housing for Women and Amari Project- Solace Women’s Aid.

[iii] Supporting Adult Survivors of Slavery to Facilitate Recovery and Reintegration and to Prevent Re-exploitation (March 2017), p1.

[iv] GRETA, Report Concerning the Implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings by the United Kingdom, adopted on 8 July 2018, para 186.

[v]PK Ghana v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] 1 WLR 3955 at [46].