Victims of modern slavery caught in legal web

Traffickers may force victims of modern slavery to commit immigration infringements and criminal offences, the Law Society of England and Wales advised its members as it published guidance for the profession on what do if they encounter a victim of modern slavery.

“Legal professionals need to be able to recognise and protect children or adults they come across who are victims of modern slavery,” Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis said.

“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 Law Society guidance spells out the range of illegal activities that fall under the umbrella of modern slavery – from forced, bonded and child labour to forced marriage and forced commercial sex acts – and details some warning signs that may help solicitors recognise victims. It explains what a solicitor should do in the best interests of each client while also upholding the rule of law and maintaining trust in legal services.

“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,” Simon Davis added.

“They may fear for their own or a family member’s safety if they speak about their circumstances to a lawyer; they may equally be afraid of incriminating themselves, being detained or forced to return to the place they were trafficked from.

“Conflicts may arise for solicitors, for instance between the duty of confidentiality and the need to act with integrity. Fine judgement and sensitivity will be key to safeguarding the victim, observing professional obligations and upholding the law.”

Notes to editors

Read our guidance on victims of modern slavery

The latest research suggests that over 70 million people worldwide are in some form of modern slavery at any given time (Global Slavery Index 2018). 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".

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