The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says during the 2017-2018 financial year it convicted 185 people for modern slavery out of 239 suspects charged.
This marks an increase convictions by more than 25% compared to the previous year. However, it barely scratches the surface of the problem as thousands are estimated to be victims in the UK.
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Notably, within the last year British citizens became the largest group of victims flagged to the National Referral Mechanism, a government scheme that identifies victims of modern slavery. A total of 5,145 potential victims were referred into the system last year, an increase of 35% compared to the year before.
Despite the increase in referrals and convictions, The Independent reports that victims have to wait several years for justice:
An annual report warned that the time taken for investigations has lengthened to an average of three years – double the duration in 2015 – because of complexities caused by having multiple defendants and victims who often need translation services and other support.
The CPS only decides to charge suspects in 67 per cent of cases referred to it – down from 83 per cent in 2014-15 – and 65 per cent of those prosecuted are convicted.
“These cases are growing in size and complexity – that’s why we have given our prosecutors extensive extra training,” she added. “Reducing the burden on victims and witnesses has been a key part of this training.”
The statistics from the CPS come amid growing criticism of the UK government and the effectiveness of the UK Modern Slavery Act. The Public Accounts Committee, for one, concluded that the government’s “good intentions have yet to result in coherent action” given the inconsistency of regional police forces in tackling the crime.
The HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate has also called for a “more formal structure” on modern slavery nationwide, urging the CPS to improve training, introduce quality assurances, and explain the gulf between modern slavery referrals and prosecutions.
Victoria Atkins, the minister for crime, safeguarding, and vulnerability said the increase in CPS convictions are a clear signal to criminals.
“However, we want to go further as this crime evolves and have recently announced an independent review of our laws to explore what more we can do to tackle this awful crime, both in the UK and abroad,” she added.
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