Slavery laws face review amid fears criminals are exploiting loophole


Slavery laws face review amid fears criminals are exploiting loophole to use it as ‘get out of jail free’ card

  • Anyone accused of an offence cannot be found guilty if forced through ‘slavery’
  • A Government source said that modern slavery has become the ‘de facto excuse’
  • Suspect claim they have been trafficked, exploited or forced to work in crime
  • In 2020 there were 10.6K referrals via Home Office’s NRM, up from 6.9K in 2018


Modern slavery laws will be overhauled amid fears they have become a ‘get out of jail free’ card for criminals, it can be revealed today.

Currently, anyone accused of committing an offence cannot be found guilty if they claim they were forced into it through ‘slavery or exploitation’.

And the number of suspects using this loophole is rocketing – prompting the move to shake up the law.

‘Modern slavery has become the de facto excuse in all kinds of criminal cases,’ a Government source said. ‘It’s also being deployed by lawyers in problematic immigration cases. We are seeing a lot more of it. We now expect the legislation to be reformed.’

In an increasing number of cases, suspects arrested by police will claim they have been trafficked, exploited or forced to work in crime by gangs.

Currently, anyone accused of committing an offence cannot be found guilty if they claim they were forced into it through ‘slavery or exploitation’. Pictured: People marching against modern slavery in London in October 2017

Currently, anyone accused of committing an offence cannot be found guilty if they claim they were forced into it through ‘slavery or exploitation’. Pictured: People marching against modern slavery in London in October 2017

Many claim they have been threatened into committing crime, forced to work as a prostitute or simply made to work for little or no pay. There was even a case last month in which a terrorist trial was thrown out due to a modern slavery claim.

The 16-year-old defendant – the youngest girl ever charged with a terror offence in the UK – claimed she had been sexually exploited and groomed online.

Last night a Government source said the current legislation from 2015 – created by ex-prime minister Theresa May when she was home secretary – was becoming a big problem in criminal and immigration cases.

Potential victims of modern slavery are sent through the Home Office’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

In 2020 there were 10,613 NRM referrals, up from 6,982 in 2018 and more than four times the figure from 2014.

The most recent figures – for January to September last year – showed there had been 9,393 cases during that period alone.

Last night a Government source said the current legislation from 2015 – created by ex-prime minister Theresa May (pictured on February 11) when she was home secretary – was becoming a big problem in criminal and immigration cases

Last night a Government source said the current legislation from 2015 – created by ex-prime minister Theresa May (pictured on February 11) when she was home secretary – was becoming a big problem in criminal and immigration cases

The total includes British nationals – one of the largest groups – as well as foreigners, and will include those who were genuine victims as well as suspected criminals.

However, figures obtained under freedom of information laws show some police forces have seen large increases in the number of suspected criminals who have been referred to the NRM.

Cambridgeshire police recorded 71 suspects were sent to the NRM process in 2020-21, up from just four in 2017-18. And Norfolk police recorded single digit totals each year from 2015 to 2017, but by 2020-21 it had risen to 35.

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