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UK: access to legal advice for survivors

Project interrogating access to legal advice and support for people referred to the UK authorities as potential victims of modern slavery.

Out of over 10,000 people referred to the UK authorities as potential victims of modern slavery in 2019, around 70% experienced delays in the decision-making process, and at the end of the year more people received negative than positive decisions identifying them as victims.

In this context, for survivors of modern slavery, high quality legal advice can be crucial for securing identification as a victim, accessing support, engaging with criminal justice processes, and obtaining redress for abuses. For many, legal representation can also provide a route to gaining a secure immigration status in the UK.

As awareness and identification of people affected by modern slavery increases, current failures in legal support provision are likely to become more pertinent, jeopardising the government’s proclaimed commitment to supporting survivors and potentially breaching its international obligations, and leaving many vulnerable people unable to access vital support.

A research project led by the Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham and the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU), interrogates access to legal advice and support for people referred to the UK authorities as potential victims of modern slavery.

The project examines deficiencies in the provision of legal advice and support for survivors, explores the causes and consequences of these failures, situates access to legal services within the context of the UK’s international obligations, and investigates the impact of representation by qualified legal practitioners on outcomes for survivors. Overall, the analysis will provide the foundations for the development of meaningful, practical solutions to current system failures.

It focuses in-depth on two regions, the North West and East Midlands, mapping out services which provide a range of legal advice and support services and situating the regions within the national context and the UK government’s obligations to victims.

Project lead: Samantha Currie, University of Liverpool.