Modern Slavery Act 2015: The important distinction between Young People & Adults

In the recent case of R v NHF [2022] EWCA Crim 859, the Court of Appeal emphasised the significant differences between the s.45 defence for children / young people and adults. Unfortunately this judgement is not freely available and we are unable to link to it but it can be accessed via Lexis Nexis or Westlaw.


The case of NHF concerned a young person who had been charged with offences relating to the supply of class A drugs. He had been charged alongside two adult co-defendants and all three had a raised a defence under s.45.

When summing up to the jury, the trial judge rightly identified that for NHF, the jury did not have to consider whether he had been compelled to do the act. However, the judge then went on to conflate the distinct defences for under and over 18s, namely that [for an adult] the jury had to consider whether ‘a reasonable person in the same situation as the defendant, and having the defendant's relevant characteristics, would have no realistic alternative to doing that act'; whereas the correct direction is whether ‘a reasonable person in the same situation as NHF, and having his relevant characteristics, would have done the act.'

NHF was convicted whilst both of his co-defendants were acquitted. NHF appealed against his conviction. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and refused the Crown’s application for a re-trial.


In 2021 alone, the National Referral Mechanism received 12,727 referrals in relation to potential victims of Modern Day Slavery. This figure included more children than ever before. The case of NHF serves as a helpful reminder of the key differences between the s.45 defence where children and young people are concerned. This distinction is one of fundamental importance. This case also stresses the importance of clear and carefully worded legal directions, especially where there are both adult and young co-defendants before the court.

Written by Sabrina Neves, GT Stewart Solicitors