YJLC were delighted to offer an evening masterclass on Modern Slavery, Child Trafficking and County Lines, generously hosted by Garden Court Chambers and chaired by Kate Aubrey-Johnson. The speakers, Henry Blaxland QC, Claire Sands, Stewart MacLachlan and Aika Stephenson shared their varied and extensive knowledge on this complex and emergent area of law.


County Lines is a rapidly escalating problem in which gangs are often a step ahead of the authorities.  Thousands of children are being exploited and the challenge for lawyers trying to help them is that they do not recognise themselves as ‘victims’ or that they have been subjected to exploitation. Gangs use a range of techniques to lure particularly vulnerable children in to their control in order to use them to carry out criminal activity. There is generally a lack of understanding that the children who commit crime as a result of exploitation are victims and need to be treated as such.

Both children from the UK and those from overseas who are trafficked into the UK can be the victims of various types of exploitation (including criminal and sexual). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) places the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in all actions concerning children and the various agencies who deal with trafficked children (including the courts and the Home Office) must abide by this duty.  Criminal practitioners need to be able to identify when a client may need immigration advice and their trafficked status will have a significant impact on their future in this regard.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.  In England and Wales only First Responders (Local Authorities, Police, Barnardos etc) can make referrals to the NRM (see a full list of first responders).  Once a referral has been made, a decision will be made about whether the referred person  is more likely than not a victim of trafficking.  Criminal practitioners representing potential victims of trafficking will need to consider:

  • What evidence is there that their client has been trafficked for the purpose criminal exploitation?  Has a NRM referral been made or should one be?
  • Should written representations to the Crowm Prosecution Service that it is not in the public interest to prosecute victims of trafficking be made?
  • Is there a defence under section 45 Modern Slavery Act 2015 available?
  • International protections for victims of trafficking are far wider than the defence available under the Modern Slavery Act, should an abuse of process argument be made?
  • Is immigration advice needed?
  • Is criminal injuries compensation available?

See YJLC Guide to Child Criminal Exploitation for further details.

Practitioners may find it helpful to read the relevant caselaw including R v VSJ and Others (Anti-Slavery International Intervening) [2017] EWCA Crim 36 (also known as R v Joseph), in which the judgment restates the law concerning child victims of trafficking, confirming that once it had been established that the child was a victim of trafficking for the purposes of exploitation, the relevant consideration was whether there was a sufficient nexus between the trafficking and the offence.  Also, R v TDT R (on the application of TDT v SSHD (2018) which clarifies the duty the state has to protect victims of trafficking from being re-trafficked.


A question and answer session which followed the presentations made it obvious that this is a very relevant topic for criminal practitioners today.  As complicated concepts and examples emerged, it became clear that only by sharing knowledge and expertise will this difficult area become better understood, resulting in better outcomes for children.