Consultation on sentencing guidelines for modern slavery offences published

Proposed sentencing guidelines for offenders guilty of modern slavery offences including slavery, servitude, compulsory labour or trafficking people for exploitation purposes, have been published for consultation today by the Sentencing Council.  

The draft guidelines, which apply to adult offenders, cover two main offences under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015:

  • Holding someone in slavery, servitude and forced labour (section 1), including physical restraint or imprisonment, threats or treatment which make escape from their position an impossibility.
  • Human trafficking – transporting people for purposes of exploitation (section 2), which may involve recruiting, harbouring, receiving or transferring people cross-border.

The guidelines propose that courts reserve the most severe penalties for offenders in a leading role who expect substantial financial advantage and who expose victims to an extremely high risk of death, serious physical, sexual or psychological harm, or substantial and long-term adverse impact.

The culpability factors in the guidelines reflect the scope of modern slavery offending. Some operations are run on a large and sophisticated scale, with potentially substantial financial gain, while others are instances of individual servitude with little or no profit expected. There may be many different offenders involved, some of whom are central to the offending and others who are peripheral and may not be fully aware of the extent of the operation.

The draft guidelines recognise not just the physical and financial harm suffered by victims but also the psychological harm, which in many cases can be long-lasting. Victims of modern slavery are often already vulnerable in some way. The harm caused may not always be obvious, and the guidelines direct the courts to make sure they consider all the facts of the case, even where a victim is unwilling or unable to give evidence.

 Sentencing Council chairman Lord Justice Holroyde said:

“Modern slavery is a serious offence that can cause mental, financial and physical harm to the victims, many of whom are already vulnerable. In many cases, substantial prison sentences are appropriate. 

“These offences in their current form are still relatively new but the courts are seeing increasing volumes of them.  Exploitation through deliberate degrading of victims can leave them feeling so vulnerable that they do not complain, making it harder for offenders to be brought to justice.

“The new guidelines will help provide the courts with clarity and help judges take a consistent approach to sentencing.”

Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton said:

“I welcome the Sentencing Council’s consultation on the new sentencing guidelines for offences under the Modern Slavery Act.

“These offences involve the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people for profit, and where individuals have been convicted, it is right that the courts have a carefully considered framework available when passing sentence.

“Until now this has not been available and I thank the Council for their work so far and welcome the opportunity to contribute to its development. “

Modern slavery offences cover a broad range of offending, and the nature of the offences can differ. They include trafficking women from abroad for sexual exploitation or recruiting children to take part in county lines drug operations.

An offender may deliberately target people who are poor, unemployed, homeless or who have alcohol or drug addictions.

If they have trafficked their victims from another country, they may remove their passport and ID documents. These victims may face the isolating factor of not knowing any English.

They may then subject them to threats that they should not seek to leave or to seek help from the authorities.

The Sentencing Council has published a statistical bulletin and data tables, detailing recent sentencing trends for modern slavery offences.

Notes to editors

  1. The draft guidelines apply to offences in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
  2. There are currently no definitive guidelines for offences under the 2015 Act.
  3. The Act covers offences of holding someone in slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour (section 1) and of trafficking for the purposes of exploitation (section 2). y
  4. In addition to the offences, it provides for various orders, including reparation orders, and risk and prevention orders, breach of which is a criminal offence.
  5. There are two further offences where the Council proposes to provide brief guidelines:
  • section 4 (committing an offence with the intention of committing a human trafficking offence), which has a maximum of ten years’ imprisonment (or life imprisonment where the offence committed is kidnapping or false imprisonment)
  • section 30 (breach of a slavery and trafficking risk order (STRO) or slavery and trafficking prevention order (STPO)), which has a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
  1. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so. If a judge or magistrate believes that a guideline prevents the correct sentence from being given in an exceptional case, he or she can sentence outside of the guideline.
  2. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
  3. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
  4. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657