How to assess credibility when making a Reasonable Grounds or Conclusive Grounds decision Competent Authority staff need to assess
Last updated 23/09/2021
Competent Authority staff need to assess whether a potential victim’s account of modern slavery is credible when making a reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decision. This includes potential victims of human trafficking in any part of the UK (or slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour in England or Wales).
Assessing credibility – general
Competent Authorities are entitled to consider credibility as part of their decision making process at both the reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds stages. When Competent Authority staff are assessing the credibility of an account, they must consider both the external and internal credibility of the material facts.
If they fit the definition of human trafficking or modern slavery, there is reliable supporting evidence and the account is credible to the required standard of proof, the Competent Authority should recognise the person as being a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery.
In cases of child trafficking, the Competent Authority must keep in mind the child’s:
- added vulnerability
- developmental stage
- possible grooming by the traffickers and modern slavery facilitators
Assessing credibility: material facts
In assessing credibility the Competent Authority should assess the material facts of past and present events (material facts being those which are serious and significant in nature) which may indicate that a person is a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery. It is generally unnecessary, and sometimes counter-productive, to focus on minor or peripheral facts that are not material to the claim.
The Competent Authority should assess the material facts based on the following:
- are they coherent and consistent with any past written or verbal statements?
- how well does the evidence submitted fit together and does it contradict itself?
- are they consistent with claims made by witnesses and with any documentary evidence submitted in support of the claim or gathered during the course of your investigations?
Where there is insufficient evidence to support a claim that the individual is a victim of modern slavery (for example where the case is lacking key details, such as who exploited them or where the exploitation took place) staff at the Competent Authority are entitled to question whether the reasonable grounds or conclusive grounds threshold is met. However, you must also consider whether you need more information.
Assessing credibility – detail and consistency
Level of detail
The level of detail with which a potential victim presents their claim is a factor when the Competent Authority assesses credibility. It is reasonable to assume that a victim giving an account of their human trafficking or modern slavery experience will be more expressive and more likely to include sensory details (for example what they saw, heard, felt or thought about an event) than someone who has not had this experience.
Where there is insufficient evidence to support a claim that the individual is a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery the Competent Authority is entitled to question whether the reasonable grounds or conclusive grounds threshold is met. However, they must also consider whether they need more information.
It is also reasonable to assume that a potential victim who has experienced an event will be able to recount the central elements in a broadly consistent manner. A potential victim’s inability to remain consistent throughout their written and oral accounts of past and current events may lead the Competent Authority to disbelieve their claim. However, before the Competent Authority come to a negative conclusion, they must first refer back to the first responder or other expert witnesses to clarify any inconsistencies in the claim.
Due to the trauma of human trafficking or modern slavery, there may be valid reasons why a potential victim’s account is inconsistent or lacks sufficient detail.
Assessing credibility – considering gender and culture
Competent Authority staff need to know how to consider gender and cultural issues in considering credibility.
When making reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decisions the Competent Authority must take into account the individual position and personal circumstances of the person and consider culture and gender issues.
Men and women from the same country of origin may have different experience due to their cultural, ethnic, gender and sexual identity. Women may be unable to disclose relevant details due to cultural and social norms.
Assessing credibility – mitigating circumstances
Competent Authority staff need to know about the mitigating circumstances which can affect whether a potential victim’s account of human trafficking or modern slavery is credible.
When the Competent Authority assesses the credibility of a claim, there may be mitigating reasons why a potential victim of human trafficking or modern slavery is incoherent, inconsistent or delays giving details of material facts. The Competent Authority must take these reasons into account when considering the credibility of a claim. Such factors may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- trauma (mental, psychological, or emotional)
- inability to express themselves clearly
- mistrust of authorities
- feelings of shame
- painful memories (including those of a sexual nature)
Children may be unable to disclose or give a consistent credible account due to additional factors such as:
- their age
- the on-going nature of abuse throughout childhood
- fear of traffickers or modern slavery facilitators, violence, or witchcraft
A key symptom of post-traumatic stress is avoidance of trauma triggers, or of those things that cause frightening memories, flashbacks or other unpleasant physical and psychological experiences. Because of these symptoms a person may be unable to fully explain their experience until they have achieved a minimum level of psychological stability. The Competent Authority must not view a delay in disclosing of facts as necessarily manipulative or untrue. It may be the result of an effective recovery and reflection period and the establishment of trust with the person to whom they disclose the information.
Difficulty recalling facts
As a result of trauma, victims in some cases might not be able to recall concrete dates and facts and in some cases their initial account might contradict their later statement. This may be connected to their traumatic experience. However, the need to be sensitive does not remove the need to assess all information critically and objectively when the Competent Authority considers the credibility of a case.
Assessing credibility – potential prosecution of traffickers or facilitators of modern slavery
Competent Authority staff need to know about how prosecution of traffickers or facilitators of modern slavery impacts reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decisions.
When the Competent Authority is deciding whether there are reasonable or conclusive grounds that a person is a victim of trafficking or modern slavery, their decision may be influenced by whether the alleged trafficker or facilitator or modern slavery is being prosecuted. However, their decision must not be dependent on:
- there being a criminal investigation
- whether the victim cooperates in any criminal proceedings
The victim identification process is independent of any criminal proceedings against those responsible for the human trafficking or modern slavery. The criminal standard of proof, that is ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’, is higher than that of the reasonable or conclusive grounds test.
The Competent Authority must be aware that any deliberations could be subject to disclosure in any subsequent prosecution for trafficking or modern slavery, as well as in any future judicial review or other litigation relating to the trafficking decision. Where an individual is being treated by the police as a potential victim and/or witness, they must make sure lines of communication with the senior investigating police officer are kept open.
The decision as to whether there is enough evidence to prove that an individual is a victim rests with the Competent Authority. The Competent Authority must be alert to the impact that the decision may have, not only on the victim, but on a criminal investigation and the criminal justice process.