How do I make a civil claim for modern slavery?

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. It can take many forms, including forced sexual exploitation, domestic slavery and forced labour.

There are an estimated 40 million people trapped in modern slavery worldwide. In the UK, over 10,000 people were identified as victims (or survivors) of modern slavery in 2019, with the real number of victims thought to be much higher. It occurs across the UK; victims of trafficking have been identified in every single area of the UK.

Charity ‘Anti-Slavery International’ states that people get trapped in slavery in the UK through a number of means. Often, victims are offered a seemingly good job in the UK, but when they arrive, the reality turns out to be very different, with them being forced to work under the threat of punishment or to pay off a debt owed to a trafficker or employer, or similar. The person’s living conditions might be very poor and they may live under tight restrictions.

Vulnerable people from this country are also targeted, frequently through grooming children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • What is the law?

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidated existing law relating to modern slavery and human trafficking, as well as introducing a number of new provisions.

Modern slavery has both criminal law elements (which punishes those guilty of trafficking and modern slavery offences), and civil law elements (which compensates victims of modern slavery).

Victims have a right to bring a claim for compensation for the wrongdoing they have suffered.

A victim need not have received a decision through the National Referral Mechanism (‘NRM’), in order to bring a civil claim for compensation.

Saunders Law can assist victims of modern slavery with the civil element of their claims. What does this mean in practice?

  • What kinds of civil claims can I bring?

For civil (i.e. not criminal) claims related to Modern Slavery, there is in fact no such thing as a “Modern Slavery claim”; the law has not yet caught up with the reality of modern slavery cases. We therefore have to look to other types of claim in an attempt to remedy some of the wrongdoing suffered by victims.

Other types of claim available to secure some sort of remedy for victims of modern slavery include:

  • Assault/battery
  • False imprisonment
  • Breach of contract
  • Harassment
  • Negligence
  • Discrimination

None of these heads of claim were designed specifically with the modern slavery context in mind, and therefore, none are a perfect or adequate solution to the wrongs that such victims can encounter. However, they can provide a route for victims to make a claim for damages against their perpetrators, including a claim for failure to pay the national minimum wage, and can help to improve victims’ lives, sometimes substantially.

  • When must I bring a claim?

As outlined above, there is no single “modern slavery” civil claim, instead you have to rely on existing civil law/claims, such as assault, false imprisonment, harassment and breach of contract. There are strict time limits within which a claim must be brought, for example, in a claim for personal injuries (e.g psychological injury), the claim must usually be brought within 3 years from the date of the injury.

If you wish to bring a claim for compensation, you should always seek legal advice as soon as you realise there might be a claim. This will give you the best chance of successfully pursuing your claim. Whether there is scope to bring any of the applicable claims out of time (i.e. after the deadline) depends on the circumstances. There are a number of factors the court may consider in this regard.

If you are unsure whether your claim is “in time” or whether there will be scope for bringing a claim “out of time” (i.e. after the deadline), please contact us for advice.

Is legal aid funding available?

Legal aid funding is available for civil claims related to modern slavery. Applicants are required to satisfy a means and merits test.

In making an application for legal aid, you would have to show that you are a victim of human trafficking and/or modern slavery. The relevant definitions are summarised below.

Trafficking refers to the transportation of persons by various means, including fraud and deception, for the purpose of exploitation, including forced labour or services, slavery, and servitude.

For both domestic servitude and forced or compulsory labour, where a victim has not been trafficked, the service they provided must have been derived through means or threat of penalty. Penalty includes physical coercion (such as threat of or actual violence or withholding travel or immigration documents), and psychological coercion (including intimidation and blackmail).

Forced or compulsory labour is defined as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. Again, penalty can include threats or actual physical violence, and psychological threats. A service must be provided, including domestic service.

Servitude means an obligation to provide a service that is imposed by the use of coercion. Domestic servitude refers to people working in a household where they are ill-treated, humiliated, subjected to exhausting working hours, and/or forced to live and work under unbearable conditions, with little or no pay. Victims or domestic servitude often find it very difficult to leave their employers to seek help, because of physical and psychological obstacles created by abusive employers. It is an aggravated form of forced or compulsory labour, distinguished by the victim feeling that their condition is permanent and that the situation is unlikely to change.

If you think you might be a victim of modern slavery, please contact Saunders Law through our website or call us on 020 7632 4300.




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