UK's commitment to slavery victims threatened by Illegal Migration Bill

  • Date

    Thu 27 Apr 23

Dr Marija Jovanovic

The Government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill breaches both domestic and international human rights law that guarantee protection to all victims of modern slavery, without discrimination and without exception.

That’s according to new legal analysis from Dr Marija Jovanovic, of Essex Law School, who has examined provisions of the Bill that contradict modern slavery legislation set up to protect victims with irregular migration status.

Not only would this affect victims’ access to support and assistance they are entitled to, but the new Bill could also undermine the UK’s ability to take action against perpetrators of modern slavery.

Dr Jovanovic’s findings, outlined in a new report, have found clauses 21 - 28 of the Bill would specifically contradict the UK’s obligations under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of slavery, servitude, forced labour, and human trafficking), which are also embedded in British Law through the Human Rights Act 1998.

These obligations arising out of Article 4 ECHR are one of the four unqualified and non-derogable rights.

This means that even in situations of extreme crisis (“in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation” (Article 15(1) ECHR)) states are not permitted to limit, modify, or suspend their obligations arising out of such ‘absolute’ rights in pursuit of any competing public interests.

Under the Illegal Migration Bill, victims may be removed from the UK if the Government decides they have arrived “irregularly” before a final decision on their status is made and they are offered a 30-day reflection and recovery period.

This recovery and reflection period is required under Article 13 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT), which is mainly intended to apply to people in an irregular migration situation, and ensures potential victims are given sufficient time to recover and consider whether they want to assist law enforcement with any criminal investigations.

Its removal would likely undermine any investigation into perpetrators of modern slavery as there would be little or no evidence from the victim.

Dr Jovanovic said: “The regime created by the Illegal Migration Bill contradicts both the letter and spirit of international and domestic human rights law.

“As a result, human rights of those victims of modern slavery without lawful residence in the UK are effectively rendered theoretical and illusory.”

Dr Jovanovic’s analysis of the Illegal Migration Bill was commissioned by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre.

You can view the full report here.