The Court of Appeal considered there is an onus on the prosecution to adjourn or stay proceedings where there was strong evidence to conclude that the defendant would have had a defence under section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as a victim of human trafficking.
The defendant had entered a guilty plea to one count of production of a Class B drug, namely cannabis. The circumstances of the offence were that he had been found alone in the loft area of a house which contained 411 cannabis plants. The defendant had told his solicitor ahead of the hearing that he had not seen cannabis before he entered the UK. He had been brought to the UK by an agent and was told that there was a cost attributable to passage here. It was further noted by the solicitor that the defendant was being exploited and had done what he was told to by the people exploiting him. They would visit him 2/3 times weekly to feed him and provide makeshift bedding. He was sentenced to four months' imprisonment. The sentencing judge remarked that the applicant had "been taken advantage of". The possibility of the defendant being a victim of trafficking was not pursued.
The Home Office served a decision to deport the defendant following conviction. The defendant appealed this decision and the First-Tier Tribunal ("FTT") concluded that the applicant was a victim of trafficking. Further, following a referral via the National Referral Mechanism ("NVM") there was also a Conclusive Decision that the applicant was a victim of trafficking.
Following the findings of the FTT and the Conclusive Decision the defendant appealed his conviction on the basis of fresh evidence. Two grounds were raised; firstly, the Crown should not have made the original decision to charge and/or prosecute the defendant; secondly, where the issue of the possibility of trafficking had been raised at court the proceedings should have been adjourned or stayed.
Held: The Appeal was allowed in part. The first ground was not successful as there was no proper basis to challenge the Crown's original decision to prosecute as there was no information at the time of charge to suggest the defendant was the victim of trafficking. The defendant was successful on the second ground. It was clear that the Crown should have sought an adjournment in order to make a referral via the NRM. Additionally, as there had been a Conclusive Decision the defendant would have had a defence via section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Accordingly, the conviction was found to be unsafe.
The appeal was allowed in part and the conviction was found to be unsafe.
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