Brenda Campbell QC and Sam Parham of the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team have secured a significant victory for victims of trafficking and modern slavery in DPP v M in the Divisional Court.
In this appeal by way of case stated, the prosecution argued that positive conclusive grounds decisions by the Single Competent Authority (“SCA”) that an individual was a victim of trafficking and modern slavery were inadmissible in criminal trials when the defendant was relying on the statutory defence under s.45 Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“MSA 2015”).
The SCA is the expert body created by the Government in 2019 to make decisions on the status of trafficked individuals. They are responsible for all decisions regardless of an individual’s nationality or immigration status.
This point of law had not been conclusively dealt with in previous cases before the High Court and the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and in DPP v M the prosecution appealed a decision from the Wimbledon Youth Court in order to prevent the defence adducing this evidence in future criminal cases.
M was a 15 year old boy of good character who was found in possession of a knife and Class A drugs. He was arrested in a part of London he had no connection with, in the presence of two boys with significant criminal history who were known to be gang nominals. At the time he was regularly missing from home. At trial, the conclusive grounds decision and associated minute were admitted as agreed facts, albeit the prosecution did not accept the conclusion of the SCA. M was acquitted following trial on the basis that the statutory defence under s.45 MSA 2015 applied.
The prosecution argued that M ought not to have been able to rely on the positive conclusive grounds decision which established that he was a victim of trafficking and an exploited child.
Brenda and Sam, instructed by Chloe Hartnell at Hodge Jones & Allen, successfully argued that the District Judge correctly admitted the conclusive grounds decision and further, that such decisions are admissible as a matter of law in criminal trials.
Such decisions are not determinative. It will always be a matter for the jury or the Magistrate to decide whether an individual is in fact a victim of trafficking and whether the statutory defence is made out. The amount of weight attached to a conclusive grounds decision will vary according to the individual circumstances of the case. Simply adducing such a decision will not guarantee the acquittal of a defendant.
However, this decision is a major step forward for those defendants, often vulnerable children, who are victims of trafficking, modern slavery and forced criminality. Defendants will be able to point to the decision made by the Single Competent Authority and the rationale behind it when asking the court to acquit them in accordance with the statutory defence in the MSA 2015.