The legal framework on modern slavery
Last updated 23/09/2021
This page tells you about the legal framework on modern slavery, including human trafficking.
The UK government signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings on 23 March 2007. The Convention was ratified by the UK on 17 December 2008, and came into force on 1 April 2009. This led to the creation of the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2009.
The NRM is a victim identification and support process. It is designed to make it easier for all the different agencies that could be involved in a trafficking case (for example, the police, Home Office – including Border Force, UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement – the National Crime Agency, local authorities, and non-governmental organisations) to co-operate, share information about potential victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support.
The Convention requires that potential victims of trafficking are provided with a period of a minimum of 30 days recovery and reflection, during which they will receive support, including accommodation, subsistence and access to relevant medical and legal services, and potential eligibility for discretionary leave if they are recognised as a victim. The UK provides this support to potential victims referred to the NRM for a longer period of 45 days.
Domestic framework and the Devolved Administrations
The Modern Slavery Act received royal assent on 26 March 2015 since which time the majority of provisions in that act have come into force in England and Wales. This includes a number of provisions extending existing support for victims of human trafficking to victims of slavery, servitude and forced and compulsory labour.
In 2014, the Home Secretary committed to extending the support offered through the NRM, including accommodation and subsistence, to victims of all forms of modern slavery. This change in the NRM for supporting cases identified in England and Wales came into force on 31 July 2015. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, only trafficking cases (rather than all modern slavery cases) are processed through the NRM.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 1 October 2015.
Victims of slavery, servitude and forced and compulsory labour who are conclusively recognised as such by the NRM will be eligible for discretionary leave based on the same criteria as victims of human trafficking, and this provision applies across the UK.