Supreme Court gives new rights to victims of trafficking who take their traffickers to court

Hounga v Allen [2014] UKSC 47

In a landmark first case on human trafficking, the Supreme Court has made new law which means that a child victim of trafficking can recover damages from her trafficker. 

The UK’s highest court overturned the Court of Appeal who had refused the victim - who was trafficked at age 14 - the right to recover compensation. 

The Court of Appeal had held that because the child had no right to work, she could not pursue her claim for race discrimination. 

In a strongly-worded judgment, the Supreme Court found that the victim was subject to “serious physical abuse”. The Supreme Court held that to permit the trafficker to escape liability would be “an affront” to public policy.

In the majority judgment of Lord Wilson, the Supreme Court held that in cases where one party tries to rely on a defence that the other party was acting illegally, the court should consider public policy. A court should firstly decide on whether there is any public policy in permitting a defendant to rely on the defence of illegality. It should then decide if permitting reliance on the illegality defence would offend any other aspect of public policy. A court should consider “the integrity of the legal system”. 

The Court further held that to permit the trafficker to escape liability would be a breach of the UK’s obligations under the Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Convention [The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005].

Juliette Nash the Appellant’s solicitor from the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit said:

We are delighted at this judgment. It will make a real difference to victims seeking redress from their traffickers. By its very nature, human trafficking often involves illegality. Victims of trafficking are frequently controlled by their traffickers. We see many reports of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. 

Importantly, the Supreme Court has recognised that victims in the UK can rely on the UK’s international obligations such as the Anti-Trafficking Convention.”

The Appellant was represented in the Supreme Court by David Reade QC and Niran da Silva of Littleton Chambers. The case was supported by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. 

Related stories: Anti-Slavery to intervene on Hounga vs Allen

Link to the Supreme Court Judgment

Link to the Supreme Court Press Summary