Hundreds of human trafficking victims will be able to work and claim benefits in Britain after the High Court ruled against the Home Secretary in landmark case.
Previously, the Government could send foreign victims of trafficking back to their home countries, where they might be at risk of being re-trafficked by the same criminals.
As a result, many claimed asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK, a drawn-out process which could result in them waiting for years in legal limbo for their applications to be processed by the Home Office and the court system.
During this period, they are forbidden from working, studying and accessing benefits.
But a trafficking victim’s lawyer, Ahmed Aydeed of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, welcomed the ruling. He said: "The decision will have implications," Mr Aydeed added. "It will affect hundreds of people if not more."
Mr Justice Linden made the landmark ruling on Tuesday following a legal challenge against the Home Office by a 33-year-old Vietnamese woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.
She was forced into sex work in Vietnam before being forced to the UK by her traffickers, passing through several countries on the way, including Russia and Ukraine before arriving in November 2016 in the back of a lorry.
High Court documents detail how between November 2016 and March 2018 she was forced to work in brothels and in a cannabis farm.
In April 2018 she was recognised as a victim of trafficking, yet in October 2018 she was charged with conspiring to produce cannabis and pleaded guilty at Preston crown court. In December 2018 she was sentenced to 28 months in prison.
Court documents also highlight how, as a result of her experiences, the woman “has significant mental health issues as a result of her experiences of being trafficked, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety and depressive disorder, for which she takes antipsychotic and antidepressant medication”.
Home Office confusion
In May 2019 the woman’s lawyers called for the woman to be recognised via the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as a victim of trafficking. However, the Home Office said it could find no record of her in its system.
In July 2019 the Home Office found her trafficking records and confirmation of her victim status but in October 2019 she was locked up in an immigration detention.
Although she was recognised as a trafficking victim by the Home Office, her asylum appeal is ongoing and so she began legal action against the home secretary.
In his judgment Mr Justice Linden said: “The effect of the refusal to grant the claimant modern slavery leave is that she is subject to the so-called hostile environment underpinned by the Immigration Act 2014.”
The judge said the woman’s "broad case" was that she should have been granted discretionary leave to remain, in accordance with the convention, on the basis that she had to remain in the UK in order to pursue asylum and human rights claims based on a fear of being re-trafficked if she was returned to Vietnam.
Mr Aydeed said: “Recovery is a vital form of relief for survivors of trafficking, and this will go a long way to assist victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery.
“Our client and other survivors will finally have access to education, training and they’ll finally have the right to work. Not only will this assist survivors of trafficking but it will also provide a direct financial benefit to the public purse.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The judgment does not state that leave must be granted to all victims of modern slavery, but that it may be necessary when a victim is pursuing a claim for asylum based on the fear of being re-trafficked.
“We are carefully considering the implications of this judgment. A decision on whether to appeal or not will be made in due course.”