The Court of Appeal quashed the appellant’s childhood convictions for possession with intent to supply class A drugs. The Court concluded that it was likely he would have succeeded in the statutory defence under s.45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, had he been advised of the defence at the time.
At the age of 17 years old, BSG was charged with offences of possession with intent to supply class A drugs. Only 4 months later, he was found in a cuckooed address in possession of class A drugs and he was later charged with further offences relating to drugs supply. Whilst he largely answered no comment to all questions asked in his police interviews, in one interview, he stated that he had been forced to sell drugs and that he had received a threatening message. Despite this, he was not referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). He pleaded guilty to all matters and was sentenced to a period of detention.
He was later referred to the NRM by the Salvation Army and was identified to be a victim of Modern Slavery. On the basis of the Competent Authority’s decision and further evidence obtained by his new legal team, BSG appealed against his convictions. The Court found that BSG was not advised about the defence under s.45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 by his previous legal team. They concluded that had he been, it was likely that he would have been successful in the defence. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal quashed his convictions.
The Court of Appeal recognised that what occurred in the case of BSG was a 'clear injustice' and rightly quashed his convictions. As defence lawyers, we are often the final protection for a victim of CCE. Often, a young person will be so traumatised by their experiences or so fearful of reprisals that they will not be able to make disclosures. Others may not even be able to understand that they have been exploited. It is incumbent on us as their representatives to actively listen to what a young person says, or in some cases, does not say, assess the circumstances of their case and be able to identify the key indicators of CCE. However, it is not the sole responsibility of the defence. All those involved in the criminal justice system must be alive to the issue of CCE; BSG was able to go through the entire criminal justice system without being recognised as a victim.
BSG made comments in his police interview which should have given rise to concerns about CCE. Despite this he was not referred to the NRM by the police. Those working with victims of CCE will know that unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Where the police do not make a referral, or refuse to make a referral, independent first responders should be utilised.
Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal has confirmed the principles of AAD in relation to the admissibility of modern slavery expert reports. However, expert reports remain an invaluable tool in cases of CCE, particularly when making representations to the Crown and for applications to stay proceedings as an abuse of process.
Written by Sabrina Neves, Solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors