European court rules UK Government failed to protect child trafficking victims

The Government was also found to have breached two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, as children’s rights organisation calls the ruling a “landmark victory” for survivors of child trafficking.

18/02/21

European court rules UK Government failed to protect child trafficking victims

The UK Government failed to protect two victims of child trafficking and breached two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

The court ruled that the UK Government failed to protect the two young people involved, as they were convicted of crimes as children despite signs that they had been trafficked and criminally exploited.

The ruling comes after Freedom of Information (FOI) requests earlier this month revealed that more than 4,000 people with trafficking indicators have been detained in less than two years.
Read more: www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/More-than-4%2C000-people-with-trafficking-indicators-detained-in-less-than-two-years

The UK children’s rights organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) called the ruling a “landmark victory” and added that it was concerned that safeguards in the UK were “insufficient to prevent the arrest and prosecution of child victims of trafficking.”

The case revolved around two young people who had been charged with drugs offences having been discovered working on cannabis farms in 2009.

Following their subsequent conviction, the two were identified as victims of human trafficking by the UK’s competent authority.

However, prosecutors from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled that the two young people had not been trafficked and the original convictions were upheld by the UK’s Court of Appeal.

The case was then taken to the European Court of Human Rights, who ruled that the UK Government had failed to sufficiently protect the two victims by not recognising the expertise of the competent authority.

The court found that the UK Government were in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which focuses on the prohibition of forced labour and slavery, as the prosecutors from the CPS had given “inadequate reasons… for continuing prosecution” despite the competent authority’s conclusion.

It is the first time the court has considered the relationship between Article 4 and the prosecution of potential victims of human trafficking.

Furthermore, the court found the UK Government also breached Article 6, the right to a fair trial, as the failure to fully assess the role of trafficking in their offense potentially prevented the two accused from securing necessary evidence to fully defend themselves in court.

In its ruling, the court said the UK Court of Appeal’s dismissal of the appeals by the two made it clear that the victims were only provided with one opportunity to give instructions to legal advisers and that “such an approach would in effect penalise victims of trafficking for not initially identifying themselves as such and allow the authorities to rely on their own failure to fulfil their duty under article 4 of the convention to take operational measures to protect them.”

“Consequently, [the court] does not consider that the appeal proceedings cured the defects in the proceedings which led to the applicants’ charging and eventual conviction.”

The UK government was ordered to pay €90,000 EUR (£78,590 GBP) to the two victims in compensation and has three months to ask for the case to be referred to the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber for a final ruling.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and ensuring that victims are provided with the support they need to begin rebuilding their lives. We are carefully considering this judgment.”

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT, said the ruling showed that the UK must do more to identify and protect victims of child trafficking from criminalisation.

“This is a landmark ruling for trafficked children, particularly those exploited in criminal activity, who are often treated as offenders rather than victims,” said Durr.

“This case reminds us of the urgency of early identification to prevent children of all backgrounds who are exploited in this way from being criminalised.

“The criminalisation of victims contradicts both government safeguarding guidance and modern slavery guidance - both of which clearly acknowledge the need for a safeguarding approach for all children.

“What is clear from this case is that despite improvements, the UK must ensure professional throughout the whole system - from policing through to courts, have the skills and knowledge to identify and safeguard child victims.

“This will not only help prevent victims from being criminalised, but will also enable their recovery, help protect them from immigration detention, deportation and long, protracted immigration battles as adults on the basis of having been criminally exploited by traffickers when they were children,” Durr concluded.

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