Dame Sara welcomes new Sentencing Guidelines for Modern Slavery offences


The Sentencing Council today released new Modern Slavery Sentencing Guidelines following a consultation in January 2021. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, responded to the draft guidelines.

10,700 victims of modern slavery and human trafficking were identified last year but only 331 offences prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act*. Low levels of prosecution have encouraged traffickers to view the crime as low-risk and high-reward. There is clearly a need for more offences to be prosecuted and when cases are successfully prosecuted stronger sentences not only give justice to victims but also act as a deterrent to offenders.

When the Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2015 the maximum sentence was set at life. There was an expectation of longer sentences for convicted traffickers but in practice that has not been the case. 

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has looked at a number of cases both pre and post the Modern Slavery Act and could not see a noticeable difference in sentencing; And in a recent case the Attorney General appealed an unduly lenient sentence of a man who had been trafficking children from London to Devon to deal drugs**. His sentence was increased by the Court of Appeal from 7 years 9 months to 10 years 9 months.

The Sentencing Council estimates that sentences for offences prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act will increase when the guidelines come into effect on 1 October 2021.


Lord Justice Holroyde, Chairman of the Sentencing Council, in the consultation response said:

“The definitive guidelines we are now publishing will help to promote consistency of approach in this area, and to consolidate information which will assist courts to pass appropriate sentences when dealing with offenders convicted of modern slavery offences.”


Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

“I welcome the new sentencing guidelines and expect them to lead to greater consistency.

In particular, I welcome the recognition that a victim may not recognise themselves as such, and that any apparent consent to their treatment should be treated with caution by the sentencing judge. I was pleased to see that caution was also advised that the absence of evidence of harm from the victim directly does not indicate a lack of harm or seriousness.

In light of our concerns, the draft guidelines have been amended so that when victims have been coerced or deceived into sexual activity this is assessed as a harm factor.

It is good to see that the guidelines acknowledge that some offenders may themselves be victims of modern slavery and this should be taken into account where the statutory defence does not apply.

Although it is disappointing that psychological behaviours of victims are not better reflected under the culpability factors, I appreciate that the Sentencing Council gave proper consideration to this and it is reflected in the harm factors.”



Access the full Sentencing Council guidelines here.

Read the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s consultation letter here.

Read the Sentencing Council’s response to consultation here.


* statistics from the IASC Annual Report 2020-2021.

** R. v Nixon (Onmorie Tevan-Te) and Ismail (Itman)