Criminal law

Victims of modern slavery can get into trouble with the law so it is important that they are aware of their rights.

They may not feel able to explain their history to law enforcement officers or criminal solicitors helping them, or feel that they are not listened to. It is important for professionals working with anyone who has been arrested or charged with a criminal offence to look out for indicators of modern slavery and react appropriately by giving anyone showing these indicators enough time and space to explain what has happened to them.

Non-punishment for victims of trafficking

The principle of non-punishment for victims of modern slavery in international law and now within the Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains a defence for victims who commit an offence. The focus is on whether the victim was compelled to commit the offence and whether this was due to slavery or exploitation and therefore a direct consequence of the person being a victim of slavery or exploitation. Typical criminal activities that victims can be connected with include producing or using a fraudulent travel or ID document, the production of cannabis, stealing or fraud.

The outcome of a criminal case can have a big impact on an immigration case so it is important for victims to get advice from the beginning.

A free lawyer can be provided to anyone who is taken to the police station. The lawyer is paid for by legal aid. Legal aid lawyers do not work for the government or the police. If you do not know the name of a free lawyer you can ask the police to call the “Duty Solicitor”. This is a lawyer that is on duty that day to help people who don’t have a usual solicitor. They are also independent of the police and work for the victim.

A victim can have a private talk with a lawyer before speaking to the police. The lawyer is not allowed to tell anyone what the victim says to them in a private conversation unless the victim gives them permission to tell others.

Lawyers must arrive at the police station within 45 minutes of a call saying they are needed to give advice before an interview so they can get there quickly and it will not hurt a case to wait to speak to them.

Victims should make sure they always ask for the details of their criminal lawyer after the interview (even just written on a piece of paper for them to keep) so they can stay in touch with the same lawyer or law firm afterwards.

Independent interpreters will also be provided if needed.

Young people (age 10-17) should be given someone called an “appropriate adult” who can make sure they can communicate with police officers and understand what is happening. If the young person does not have someone they want to use as an appropriate adult, someone from an independent organisation can be provided to help them.

The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service (the lawyers for the police in criminal cases) has guidance on how to deal with cases that might involve a victim of modern slavery. This looks at whether the victim acted under duress or compulsion from their exploitation and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. A suspected victim of modern slavery is likely to be referred into the NRM before a final decision is made about going ahead on the criminal case.


If a victim believes they have been wrongly convicted or sentenced they have the right to appeal. They should ask their lawyer about their chances with this and the time limit.

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