Blog Post: Modern Slavery and Trafficking


In this blog post we set out the obligations placed on the authorities to assist victims of modern slavery, and hope that this will be helpful to individuals and organisations seeking navigate the system.

National Referral Mechanism

The UK is a party to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which led to the creation of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The purpose of the NRM is to identify potential victims of modern slavery and refer them to the Single Competent Authority (SCA) and facilitate their access to support.

First responders

First responders, who are specified statutory authorities and Non-Governmental Organisations, have a responsibility to identify potential victims and refer cases to the SCA. First responders include the Home Office (including UK Border Force, UK Visas and Immigration, and Immigration Enforcement); local authorities; Health and Social Care Trusts; police forces; the National Crime Agency; the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance; Migrant Help; Kalayaan; the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority; Medaille Trust; Salvation Army; Barnardo’s; National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC); Unseen UK; New Pathways; BAWSO; and The Refugee Council.

Single Competent Authority

The SCA is responsible for all cases referred into the NRM. This exists within the Serious and Organised Crime Directorate of the Home Office. The SCA makes all NRM decisions; regardless of nationality or immigration status of the potential victim (therefore this includes UK, EEA and non-EEA nationals).

The SCA makes the following  decisions:     

  1. A reasonable grounds decision to establish whether someone is a potential victim. This should be made within 5 working days of the referral to the NRM.
  2. A conclusive grounds decision on whether they are in fact a victim.


Those who are referred to the NRM and given a positive reasonable grounds decision are provided with a minimum period of 45 days recovery and reflection, during which they are entitled to receive support, including, but not limited to, accommodation, subsistence, access to relevant medical and legal services, translation and interpretation services; counselling; support during appropriate stages of criminal proceedings against offenders; and access to education for children. In cases where an individual is destitute, support may be provided from the day of referral.

The NHS Charging Regulations exempts victims and suspected victims (who have received a positive reasonable grounds decision) of modern slavery from charges for specified NHS hospital treatment.

Positive Obligations

Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an absolute right that imposes a positive obligation on state parties to prevent modern slavery and to protect victims, in addition to creating measures to punish perpetrators of modern slavery. As part of their positive obligations, states are required to put in place adequate measures regulating businesses, where victims of slavery are often discovered; and provide relevant training to police and immigration officials.

Article 4 also requires states to take operational measures to protect victims and potential victims of modern slavery. There will be a violation of Article 4 if the State is aware, or ought to have been aware, of circumstances giving rise to a credible suspicion that an identified individual had been, or was at real and immediate risk of being subjected to treatment in breach of Article 4 and where the authorities fail to take appropriate measures within the scope of their powers to remove the individual from that situation or risk.

States also have a procedural obligation to investigate where there is a credible suspicion that an individual’s rights under Article 4 have been violated. This is regardless of whether the victim has made a complaint, as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that state authorities must act of their own accord once the issue has come to their knowledge. An effective investigation must be independent from those concerned in the events and it must also be capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible. The investigation must be undertaken as a matter of urgency where the possibility of removing the victim from the harmful situation is available.

There is also a duty on states to cooperate effectively with the relevant authorities of other states during investigations concerning cross-border modern slavery cases.

Our experts across all departments at ITN solicitors can assist you if you have been, or think you have been a victim of modern slavery.  Please click this link for more information.

Written by Manveer Bhullar

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