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Court of Appeal judgment on mitigating factors in modern slavery offences

Regina v Zakaria Mohammed [2019] EWCA Crim 1881

The Court of Appeal reduced a 21 year old’s sentence for county lines drug offences and offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 on the grounds of his youth and lack of similar convictions.

 Details

The appellant pleaded guilty to four offences of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug and five offences of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation under s2(1) Modern Slavery Act 2015. He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in relation to the drug offences, and eight years’ imprisonment in relation to the modern slavery offences. These sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, totalling fourteen years’ imprisonment.

The appellant was involved in a county lines drug operation, and transported children away from their homes so that they could sell Class A drugs elsewhere. In respect of the drug offences, there were multiple aggravating factors, such as that the appellant played a significant role in the operation, that he was involved for financial gain, and that he used under eighteen year olds to deliver the drugs. In relation to the modern slavery offences, although no force was used, the appellant significantly enhanced the victims’ vulnerability.

The Court allowed an appeal on the grounds that the total sentence of fourteen years’ imprisonment failed to reflect the principle of totality and the mitigation available to the appellant. The mitigating factors were the appellant’s age and relative lack of criminal history. The Court was particularly concerned with the latter of these, and concluded that the fourteen year sentence was too long. It quashed both sentences in favour of seven years’ imprisonment in relation to the modern slavery offences and five years’ imprisonment in relation to the drug offences. The Court was keen to emphasise the gravity of these offences but was of the view that a total of twelve years’ imprisonment in this context was sufficient to deter offending of this kind.

 Commentary

 Although the Court cited the general principles set out in Clarke in relation to sentencing those who are young when convicted, their impact was limited as the appellant’s criminality was ‘sustained and had the hallmarks of professional crime’ [paragraph 44]. The principle that turning eighteen does not present a cliff edge for sentencing has less of an impact in such contexts than it does in situations where offences are committed in the spur of the moment. Nonetheless, the Court recognised that someone in the appellant’s situation cannot be treated the same as a mature adult.