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PRESS RELEASE: C.N. v United Kingdom

14 November 2012

UK violation of Article 4 for failure to investigate servitude


On 13 November 2012 the European Court of Human Rights delivered its Grand Chamber judgment in the case of C.N. v United Kingdom, in which the Court found that the UK authorities had violated Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to investigate the people who had subjected her to servitude.

The AIRE Centre intervened in the case, highlighting for the Court that victims of human trafficking were particularly unlikely to be identified by the authorities as victims of crime and that States must therefore take a pro-active approach to investigating and prosecuting their exploiters.

In finding that there had been a violation of Article 4 of the Convention, and awarding the Applicant EUR 8,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage (plus EUR 20,000 for costs and expenses), the Court commented that:

80. … As indicated by the Aire Centre and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in their third party interventions, domestic servitude is a specific offence, distinct from trafficking and exploitation, which involves a complex set of dynamics, involving both overt and more subtle forms of coercion, to force compliance. A thorough investigation into complaints of such conduct therefore requires an understanding of the many subtle ways an individual can fall under the control of another. In the present case, the Court considers that due to the absence of a specific offence of domestic servitude, the domestic authorities were unable to give due weight to these factors. 81.  Consequently, the Court finds that the investigation into the applicant’s complaints of domestic servitude was ineffective due to the absence of specific legislation criminalising such treatment.

The AIRE Centre notes that, subsequent to the abuse and exploitation that this Applicant was subjected, the UK Parliament enacted the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which created specific offences of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour (at section 71). However, it is also noted that the UK government argued in the above case that this new provision had not been enacted to fill a gap in the previous law, but rather that it had been thought “useful to introduce a further bespoke offence” even though the new offences were “already covered by extensive legislation and regulations” (see paragraph 58 of the Judgment).

It is therefore hoped that the relevant UK authorities will be properly trained, funded and encouraged to utilise the new provision in a pro-active and victim centred manner in all future cases of this nature.



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