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Landmark sentencing guidelines issued for modern slavery

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(12 August 2021)

Landmark sentencing guidelines for modern slavery offences unveiled today could result in tougher punishments being handed down as it emerged that courts may have been inconsistent in their approach.

To date, there have been no definitive guidelines for offences under the Modern Slavery Act, which received Royal assent in 2015. The act covers slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking. Human trafficking offences include recruiting, harbouring, receiving or transferring people across borders, as well as county lines trafficking and sexual assault. 

Under the guidelines published today, offenders could face up to 18 years in prison.

As part of the Sentencing Council’s consultation process, 16 judges took part in qualitative research.

The judges were split into two groups to test different aspects of the guidelines. They were asked to sentence two cases – one with the defendant, and one with two defendants – as they would if the case came before them today and then using the guideline.

The council said: ‘In terms of sentencing levels, in 23 of the 48 sentencing exercises relating to individual offenders the participants arrived at a more severe sentence using the draft guideline than they had without using the guideline. In 14 cases they imposed the same sentence and in nine cases they imposed a lower sentence. In two cases the participants had been unable to arrive at a final sentence on the information before them, without using the draft guideline.

‘The tendency to impose a higher sentence when using the guideline was particularly pronounced in cases where the offender was assessed as low culpability.’

Sentencing Council member Rosina Cottage QC said today that the guidelines ‘will help to promote consistency of approach in this area, and to consolidate information that will assist courts to pass proportionate sentences’.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)