Court Addresses Legal Obligations Toward Child Victims of Trafficking & Support Provision

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3034 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case AM, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor, the High Court of Justice addressed several pivotal legal issues pertaining to the provision of support for Child Victims of Trafficking (CVOTs) and the obligations under both domestic law and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT). This case meticulously examined the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) and a local authority, in this instance, the London Borough of Barnet, in providing support to individuals identified as CVOTs and Adult Victims of Trafficking (AVOTs).

Key Facts

The claimant, an individual identified as a CVOT, sought judicial review challenging the decisions of the SSHD and Barnet concerning the provision of backdated payments for support allegedly due between April 2018 and December 2019. The SSHD agreed to make certain back payments for a different period but disputed the claimant’s entitlement for other periods, citing the claimant’s status as a child and the need for consent to access support. The claimant asserted breaches of ECAT, European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 4 (prohibiting slavery and forced labor), and duties under the Children Act 1989 and related regulations.

The Court applied several key legal principles:

  1. ECAT Implementation: ECAT obligations do not necessitate specific financial support and permit States to tailor measures. The operational duty under ECAT requires States to assist victims in their recovery in a manner that is considered necessary and appropriate by the State.

  2. Domestic Legal Framework: The Court confirmed that the statutory framework under the Children Act 1989 is sufficient to meet obligations under ECAT for CVOTs.

  3. Consent to Services: The SSHD can require those who entered the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as children to consent to continue receiving support upon turning 18.

  4. Discrimination (Article 14 ECHR): The Court ruled that children and adults are not in analogous situations, dismissing the claim of discrimination between CVOTs and AVOTs concerning the provision of support.

  5. Systemic Challenges: The Court assessed whether the system itself is capable of being operated lawfully, rather than focusing on the potential for individual unfair decisions.

  6. Local Authority Duties: The Court found that the local authority failed to acknowledge the claimant’s status as a CVOT and to consider his specific needs related to trafficking, as well as to seek information from other authorities, which constituted a breach of their duties.

  7. Section 31(2A) of the Senior Courts Act 1981: The Court found it not “highly likely” that the outcome for the claimant would not have been substantially different without the conduct complained of, thus rendering the provision inapplicable to resist relief.

Outcomes

The Court granted the claimant declaratory relief for the period from May 2019 to December 2019 for back payments, indicating that Barnet was responsible for ensuring certain supports as the claimant was in the NRM. It upheld the SSHD’s actions regarding the requirement for NRM consent for adults and dismissed allegations of a breach of Article 14 of the ECHR. The claim against Barnet succeeded concerning their failure to acknowledge and react to the claimant’s CVOT status.

Conclusion

The case highlights the complexity of legal obligations towards CVOTs and the necessity for local authorities and the SSHD to closely consider the individual rights and circumstances of victims of trafficking. It affirms the legal interpretation that financial support is not a requisite component of recovery assistance under ECAT. The decision delineates a nuanced understanding of the operational duties of both local authorities and the SSHD when providing support, illustrating the imperative for systematic and legislative compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.

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