The CPS response to the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Date of publication
14 December 2017

Modern slavery is a serious crime in which individuals are exploited for little or no pay. Slave masters and human traffickers control or coerce victims, many of whom are deceived into working in dreadful conditions. They are threatened and abused and often too scared to risk escape, making this a complex and hidden crime. The National Crime Agency (NCA) has estimated that there are tens of thousands of victims in the UK alone.

The crime has a variety of common scenarios: food processing, fishing, agriculture, construction, car washes and domestic and care work, as well as brothels and cannabis farms. It is driven by international gangs and victims are usually drawn from vulnerable or socially excluded groups.

The UK Government has just committed a £40m aid package to address slavery and trafficking internationally and this review assesses the national, international and local Area response of the CPS in terms of strategic leadership, governance and joint working. It also considers the effectiveness of operational practice in prosecuting or disrupting criminality, and providing support to victims and witnesses. Inspectors also assessed progress against the recommendations in the Modern Slavery Act Review.

Leadership is provided by a policy lead in CPS Headquarters, who is highly thought of, and there is very effective joint working between the CPS and specialist police units or operational teams. The lead provides a national point of contact for Areas. The most complex modern slavery casework is dealt with in the specialist casework Divisions at CPS Headquarters, although the full breadth of work sits in the various units at CPS Area level from the Complex Casework and Rape and Serious Sexual Offences units to the Crown Court and potentially magistrates’ courts units.

There was considerable knowledge and experience in the Areas, with prosecutors who have had direct experience of cases. There are mechanisms for sharing information at national level such as telephone ‘dial-ins’ and Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) co-ordinator meetings.

Good practice was identified in Wales, where there is a Casework Review Group and strategic delivery plan. Its Anti-Slavery Leadership Group provides direction as well as raises awareness as part of the commitment of the Welsh Government.

Further examples of good practice were found in the West Midlands, which used prevention orders and risk orders in a case that was being investigated but had yet to be charged. This protected victims and potential victims from further harm.

There is a crucial need for a more formal structure nationwide. Although the CPS is working closely with other UK prosecuting authorities and there is a significant amount of cross-Government collaboration, there is no clear, overarching framework for all the crime types and it is not treated as a single body of work. This leads to a lack of clarity and consistency.

Additionally:

  • the CPS needs to introduce a quality assurance mechanism. The lack of one hinders effective performance management, knowledge management, the evaluation of training and the ability to identify knowledge gaps and training needs
  • there are various sources of training but the approach is not systematic, which means there is no consistency, and there is a confused picture of what trafficking and slavery involves. There is some legal guidance on the CPS intranet and some training available, but it is voluntary. The CPS needs to develop training for everyone handling cases where there is a slavery or trafficking element
  • a ‘silo’ approach means good practice is not shared and lessons are not learned. Furthermore, there is no consistency across Areas which presents challenges for local leads, oversight and assurance
  • there is a significant disparity between the numbers of potential victims, those who go through official mechanisms and actual prosecutions. Although the number of human trafficking referrals had risen to their highest levels in 2016-17, there were fewer prosecutions and convictions. The CPS needs to communicate why cases do not proceed so that this disparity is better understood.

Special measures have been extended to all victims of trafficking and slavery, including screening them from defendants in court and allowing them to give evidence via a live link. Other initiatives to help victims are also being rolled out, including the use of pre-recorded cross-examination of victims.

There is a mixed picture in terms of the support provided to victims in the form of interpreters or intermediaries and the quality of pre-recorded evidence. The difficulty in securing interpreters can have a significant impact on case progression. The quality of pre-recorded interviews with victims also needs improvement. The key is to ensure that victims remain engaged and that they receive a consistent response from the CPS as a national service.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidates existing offences of human trafficking and slavery and encompasses trafficking for all forms of exploitation.

HMCPSI visited six CPS Areas and interviewed operational staff in the Complex Casework Units and Violence against Women and Girls leads, as well as thematic leads within police forces. Inspectors also spoke to staff at CPS Headquarters, stakeholders and third sector agencies. They did not look at individual cases.

The CPS response to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 report (219.79 kB)