New research led by BIICL found that the system providing legal advice to modern slavery survivors is inadmissible, disengaging, piecemeal, and significantly under-resourced.
This has a profound impact on survivors and in areas much wider than previously understood, with much of legal advice provided by providers narrowly focused on trafficking, whereas survivors also need support in other areas, from the recognition as victims, immigration or criminal proceedings, to less talked about impact in areas such as family matters (such as custody of children), compensation and access to other support services.
The research was carried out in partnership with anti-slavery charity Unseen UK and funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), which in turn is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
1. People with lived experience of modern slavery often have complex and intersecting legal needs, yet they face a range of challenges in accessing legal advice. These challenges stem from issues relating to the supply of legal aid, awareness of rights, and support in accessing this advice in practice.
2. Access to legal advice is key to the wellbeing of people with lived experience of modern slavery, with quality of legal advice being a critical factor in its impact on individuals. Factors determining the quality of legal advice include the technical expertise of the legal service provider, the adoption of a 'holistic approach' to legal advice provision, effective and trauma-informed communication with the client, and timeliness.
3. A lack of quality legal advice can impact every area where people with lived experience of modern slavery are in touch with the legal system, including: formal identification as a 'victim of modern slavery' and referral into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM); immigration and asylum processes; access to compensation and other remedies; criminal proceedings; family matters; and access to mainstream services.
4. Lack of access to quality legal advice can directly affect the recovery and wellbeing of people with lived experience of modern slavery by contributing to ongoing uncertainty, anguish and anxiety around their situation. A lack of access to quality legal advice can also have significant financial consequences for those who feel compelled to seek private legal advice, which can in turn leave them in debt and increase their vulnerability to re-exploitation. Finally, it can also have negative impacts that extend beyond the situation of the individual in question, for example by reducing the rates of successful prosecutions, as well as on public finances, with quality legal advice having the potential to reduce the number of costly appeals.
5. The research identified a number of promising practices, including dedicated programmes in Scotland and Northern Ireland providing advice prior to entering the National Referral Mechanism; formal collaborations between NGOs, local authorities and legal service providers promoting a holistic approach to legal advice provision; and training and mentoring of legal practitioners by NGOs specialising in modern slavery issues.