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High Court strikes down Home Office decision to cut support for victims of trafficking and modern slavery

8 November 2018

Shu Shin Luh

Shu Shin Luh of Garden Court Chambers’ Public Law Team represented the K, the lead Claimant. She was led by Nathalie Lieven QC of Blackstone Chambers and instructed by Nusrat Uddin of Wilsons Solicitors LLP.

The High Court today declared the decision of the Home Office to cut weekly benefits to asylum seeking victims of trafficking by over 40% – from £65 to £37.75 per week – to be unlawful. More than 1,000 victims of trafficking were affected by the cut that was unilaterally implemented by the Home Office without consultation with the affected victims or their support providers.

Evidence presented to the High Court from two victims of trafficking who brought this challenge and from charities who support victims of trafficking showed the detrimental effect that the cuts had on them and others in “the highly vulnerable and distressing position of a victim of trafficking.”

The lead claimant, K, had been sex trafficked to the UK. She was held against her will and subjected to several rapes by different men each day. As a result she suffers from depression and PTSD and is reliant on her support network to maintain mental stability. She was assisted to access mentoring and vocational training to help her to build a more positive future with skills that would mitigate the risks of re-exploitation. When the cuts were brought into force, K could no longer afford to travel to access her support network and activities. This was destabilising and regressive for her mental health and led to her becoming socially isolated and attempting suicide. Another co-claimant, AM, also suffered deterioration in his mental health as a result of the cuts.

Striking down the decision to cut support to victims, the Judge held that “the claimants and anyone else subjected to the cut are entitled to be repaid at the rate of £27.25 per week from the date that the cut was imposed on them until the date of repayment.”

The Judge also found that the decision significantly at odds with the clear commitment made by the Home Office to combating modern slavery and to protecting those subject to it. In particular, the Judge expressed dismay at the failure of the Home Secretary to comply with his obligations to victims of trafficking and modern slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Under the relevant provisions of that Act, the Home Secretary ought to have issued guidance setting out how assistance and support is to be provided to victims of trafficking. More than three years have passed since the Act was brought into force. The Judge held that the Home Secretary has “an absolute duty immediately to issue the guidance that Parliament required of him” and that “any further delay would be completely unacceptable.”

Today’s final judgment followed on from a successful interim injunction secured by Shu Shin Luh of Garden Court Chambers’ Public Law Team in respect of a third claimant, M, for whom the cut meant she was no longer able to meet the strict dietary needs she had to manage her anti-retroviral treatment for HIV which was contracted during her prolonged forced prostitution. Today’s judgment will also benefit M, who, like the two lead claimants, will also be entitled to back payments.

The Defendant has agreed to make a public announcement about the victims’ entitlement to repayments and to use reasonable endeavours to contact all affected victims.

The lead Claimant K, said in respect of today’s judgment:

“I am so happy with the judgment and how it will help all the other victims affected by the cuts like me. I am so grateful to Nusrat, my solicitor, also the barristers and Judge for his decision. I was so low because I was not able to do the activities which had been helping me before my money was cut. Now that I can afford to re-engage with my support network and activities, it makes me feel more positive about my future.”

Nusrat Uddin of Wilson Solicitors, who acts for K, said:

 “We are very pleased with the decision of Mr Justice Mostyn that these cuts were unlawful and fundamentally undermined the UK’s commitment to combating modern slavery and assisting victims’ recovery.

For over eight months, our client has been denied all the services vital for her recovery from her past traumatic experiences. It is not a simple road to recovery for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. Many of our trafficking clients are too fragile to start formal treatment or are waiting for a long time before counselling or therapy is available. It is crucial that support groups and activities are accessible in order to empower victims to move forward in their recovery. The cuts prevented our client’s from maintaining contact with her support network or attending her counselling and vocational activities. It made her feel powerless again and she felt so hopeless about her future that she attempted suicide.

A back payment can’t make up for the lost time and support but we hope that at least now our client and others affected by these cuts can start to stabilise and rebuild their life again.”

The High Court’s findings are likely to impact on the Home Secretary’s plans to align the rates of support for victims of trafficking with those of asylum seekers due to be implemented next year. The Judge had rejected the Home Secretary’s argument that the needs of victims of trafficking are comparable to those of asylum seeker and held that the “very substantial cut imposed unilaterally by the Home Office” was taken on “a false basis and cannot stand”.

The judicial review was heard over two days at the Royal Courts of Justice in October 2018. Read the full judgment.

This case has been reported in the media including Guardian and Independent.

Shu Shin Luh is a member of Garden Court Chambers’ Public Law Team.

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