New sentencing guidelines have been published for four offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The guidelines have been updated following an increasing number of cases coming before the courts.

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Modern slavery – what are the new sentencing guidelines?

The Sentencing Council has developed new sentencing guidelines for adults convicted under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. These will come into effect on 1 October 2021. The changes relate to four offences in particular, which are:

  1. Holding someone in slavery (section 1)
  2. Human trafficking (section 2)
  3. Committing an offence with the intention of committing a human trafficking offence (section 4)
  4. Breach of a slavery and trafficking prevention order, or a slavery and trafficking risk order (section 30)

Holding someone in slavery and human trafficking

The offences of holding someone in slavery and human trafficking are often sentenced together. The Sentencing Council has therefore decided to produce one guideline to cover both offences.

The most serious cases carry a maximum penalty of 18 years’ imprisonment for offenders who played a leading role, with a substantial financial gain, and who exposed victims to a high risk of death.

Under the new guidelines, an offender’s culpability will increase if threats were made to the victim or their family. This also applies if the offender had an expectation of substantial financial gain and material advantage.

Harm can be assessed in various ways, including expert evidence based on factual evidence from the victim. However, the courts are asked to remember that victims may not be obviously traumatised, as they may not recognise their own victimhood. If the victim is said to have consented, then this should be treated with caution. Sentencers should not assume that the absence of evidence from those trafficked means a lack of harm or seriousness.

Committing an offence with the intention of committing a human trafficking offence

This offence carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. When deciding on a sentence, the court should begin with the appropriate sentence for kidnap or false imprisonment. An additional two years’ imprisonment should then be added to reflect the intention to commit human trafficking.

Breach of a slavery and trafficking prevention order, or a slavery and trafficking risk order

The new sentencing guidelines say such breaches should be treated in the same way as breaches of criminal behaviour orders or sexual harm prevention orders.

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