Justice for victim of modern-day slavery

28 May 2010

Liberty today welcomed a jury’s decision to convict the employer of a Liberty client who had been subjected to forced domestic labour for over two and half years.

Patience Asuquo told Snaresbrook Crown Court that she had suffered threats and violence at the hands of her employer who withheld her passport and wages. Despite managing to escape and complain to police, little was done to investigate her case until Liberty brought legal proceedings under the Human Rights Act.

The employer was convicted of assault and given a twelve-month conditional discharge. She was also ordered to pay £750 towards prosecution costs and £400 in compensation to Ms Asuquo.

As a result of Ms Asuquo’s case, Liberty identified the need to outlaw modern day slavery with the creation of a new serious offence attracting a maximum sentence of fourteen years imprisonment. In October of last year Baroness Young of Hornsey, an independent Crossbench peer, took an amendment through the House of Lords which created the offence of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, said:

“This case would never have reached the courtroom if it were not for Patience’s extraordinary courage and the protections of the Human Rights Act which forced the police to reopen the investigation. I hope today’s conviction marks a turning point in the way that vulnerable victims of forced labour are treated in the UK.”

Patience Asuquo, Liberty’s client, said:

“It has been very stressful but I put my trust in God. I feel so grateful that justice has finally been done.”

Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, provides that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude”, or “be required to perform forced or compulsory labour”.

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NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The Court heard the following details about the background leading to the assault in August 2007:

· Ms Asuquo came to the UK from Nigeria in December 2004, aged 22, to work as a domestic servant for a solicitor practising in London.

· She worked for her employer for almost 3 years, during which time she was regularly subjected to verbal and physical abuse and was paid only £2,155 over the entire period. Her passport was held by her employer whose husband told her that she had to stay in the job for 4 years in order to remain in the UK.

· Following an assault in August 2007 Ms Asuquo escaped the household with the help of a neighbour and reported the matter to the police.

2. Following an initial investigation the police informed Ms Asuquo in October 2008 that the investigation was closed.

3. Liberty issued judicial review proceedings against the Metropolitan Police in January 2009. The Metropolitan police accepted that their failure to pursue the matter had breached Article 4 of the Human Rights Act and they agreed to reopen the investigation.

4. The employer was subsequently arrested and charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and theft of Ms Asuquo’s passport.

5. The trial took place at Snaresbrook Crown Court from 25-28 May 2010. On the 28th May the jury returned a verdict of common assault. In giving the sentence of the Court HHJ Khyatt QC said he was imposing a relatively lenient sentence in part because the employer was likely to face sanctions from the Law Society.

6. Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which came into force on April 2010, creates the offence of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour.