Victory for victims of trafficking and modern slavery in legal aid dispute

UK government confirms legal aid available for victims of trafficking following court challenge

Legal aid is vital for children and young people to realise their rights. However, legal aid was cut for a number of areas of law – the negative impact of which is explored in our recent report. One area where it was still available was for victims of trafficking and modern slavery who had a reasonable grounds decision from the National Referral Mechanism, the process used to identify trafficking victims in the UK.

The government body responsible for managing legal aid changed its position on legal aid for victims of trafficking last year, stating that it should not be available for victims applying for leave to remain on the basis of their trafficking experiences. This change had come as a surprise to those working with trafficking victims. ATLEU, a charity providing legal representation to victims of trafficking and labour exploitation, challenged this decision following the refusal of legal aid for one of their clients. The challenge was made by judicial review against the Lord Chancellor.

One of the arguments that the Legal Aid Agency had made was that victims of trafficking could make an exceptional case funding application in cases where legal aid was necessary. Jessica Evans, one of CCLC’s solicitors, provided a witness statement to ATLEU, setting out the difficulties with exceptional case funding and the barriers victims of trafficking would face in trying to obtain legal aid through this method.

The case was conceded by the Lord Chancellor before the hearing and it was confirmed that legal aid would be available for  victims of trafficking to cover determining conclusively whether an individual is a victim of trafficking and whether that individual should be granted leave to remain. This represents a significant victory for victims of trafficking and ensures that those victims have effective access to justice.

For further details on the case, background and practical steps, please see ATLEU’s article on the case.