Review reveals that Government is failing victims of slavery who need legal help

Since 2013 victims of modern slavery and trafficking have had the right to a lawyer to help them take their traffickers to court.  For the past three and a half years the Ministry of Justice has failed to provide this. Last week the Ministry finally published a review accepting that victims of trafficking have not been given sufficient access to legal advice. As a result hundreds of victims have been denied access to justice since April 2013. 

ATLEU has long argued that victims are unable to access advice because of the limited number of providers able to deal with claims and the limited number of such claims each one could handle. Firms are only allowed to do up to five cases a year, which makes the work financially unviable, preventing firms developing the necessary expertise. There is very little coverage outside of London and the South. As a result, many legal aid lawyers and support organisations are unaware that victims even have the right to legal aid for these claims. As more victims are identified year on year, the situation deteriorates further. 

The Ministry of Justice published their review into legal aid for victims of trafficking and modern slavery on 15 December 2016. Having undertaken this exercise it now accepts that victims do not have effective access to justice and “the likely demand for legal help… is not being met”. 

In response to the review the Legal Aid Agency have announced that legal aid providers will be allowed to advise only 10 more victims each year. This is wholly inadequate. ATLEU is calling on the government to treat trafficking work the same as other legally aided work where there are contracts for lawyers to take on cases, with quality safeguards. This encourages the development of a sustainable national network of lawyers with the necessary expertise.

Despite the disappointing reaction to the review by the Legal Aid Agency, ATLEU has applied for the 10 matter starts and strongly urges other providers to do the same.  ATLEU hopes to offer free training to legal aid providers wishing to undertake this work. If you would be interested then please email atleuteam@atleu.org.uk to indicate your interest.  

Immigration success for our clients

  • 'My heart is just full, it is full of joy. It is really hard to leave a small child. I had not seen him for five years. Since he has come my heart has been full. Thank you.'

We represented a refugee and victim of trafficking from Africa with her family reunion appeal to bring her eight-year-old son to the UK. We successful obtained exceptional legal aid funding and fee remission in the immigration tribunal. The government eventually agreed they were wrong and changed their decision to allow him entry. Now they have been reunited.

  • We secured a residence permit for a child victim of trafficking after the government's decision to refuse it. They had decided that since the child was not co-operating with the police, was not pursuing a claim for compensation and they did not believe there was anything exceptions in his circumstances, a grant of leave was not appropriate. We were able to show that this decision was flawed, highlighting the government's lack of knowledge surrounding the impact of human trafficking on children. 
  • 'Thank you very much for your help and advice about my case. I have nothing to say only I want to say continue doing to others as same you did to me. God bless you.'

Our client from Africa had severe health problems connected to her trafficking experience and as a result she was granted permission to stay in the UK for two and a half years to allow her to received the medical help she desperately needed.

  • With the help of the AIRE centre we were able to show that a victim of trafficking's EEA status was not a bar to the issue of a residence permit. The issue of EEA nationals and leave to remain as a victim of human trafficking is widely misunderstood. We were referred a case in which the AIRE centre were already involved. Our client, an EEA national, was found to be a victim of trafficking but not issued with a residence permit and she had criminal convictions gained as a result of the impact of being trafficked.  The decision to grant residence for 30 months, means she is now eligible to seek support to stay safe and recover.
  • 'I was very upset when the government didn't accept me. When we got the decision [on my appeal] I was very pleased. It made me feel like I could trust your work. I felt like the government was taking the case seriously and that I had another chance.'

We helped this victim of trafficking from Eastern Europe who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation as a child. We made representations which led to the government withdrawing a decision that she was not a victim of trafficking and agreeing to reconsider the case.

  • Following a First-tier Tribunal hearing success, the Secretary of State applied for permission to appeal against the decision. At the first stage Upper Tribunal hearing it was quite apparent to the Court that the Home Office Presenting Officer had not reflected the position accurately in her grounds seeking permission. As a result costs, of the hearing were awarded against the Secretary of State and the decision upheld. It is a rare experience to have the Upper Tribunal award costs, and a very satisfying one!
     
  • Our representations forced the Home Office to accept our client's application for permission to stay as a victim of trafficking without making him pay a heavy application fee.  The client, from South East Asia, was later granted a visa.

These are just some examples of the success we've had in immigration cases. All of these decisions have made significant changes to our clients lives and many of them reveal the authorities' lack of understanding of the impact of trafficking and their legal obligations to protect victims of trafficking.

Update on legal aid review for compensation claims

In March this year, the government settled our Judicial Review which challenged its failure to give victims the legal support to bring compensation claims against their traffickers. The government told the Court that it would review legal aid for victims and aim to produce a report by the end of June 2016.

Despite our requests, however, the Ministry of Justice had still not replied to us about progress on this review by the end of November, over five months later. 

The Legal Aid Agency has now announced it will put out an expression of interest for legal aid lawyers who want to work on modern slavery cases. However, if this does not result in adequate provision of legal aid for victims of trafficking and slavery to bring compensation claims against their perpetrators ATLEU intends to bring a further legal challenge. 

Following our representations, the Legal Aid Agency did agree to let us take 25 cases for victims this year, a considerable increase on their original allocation of just five. However, this is no substitute for a national scheme and we hope that the upcoming expression of interest will establish a much-needed national network of lawyers working for victims. 

See also: ATLEU judicial review leads to government urgently reviewing legal aid to victims of modern slavery and trafficking