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 firstname.lastname@example.org to indicate your interest.