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Addressing lack of access to legal advice for survivors

Project assessing the factors preventing people with lived experience accessing legal advice in the UK.

Adequate, timely, and effective access to quality legal assistance remains a critical concern for people with lived experience of modern slavery, despite recognition of the transformative impact of legal advice on access to protection and recovery.

A research project, led by the British Institute for International and Comparative Law (BIICL), in partnership with Unseen UK, seeks to assess the impacts of the inability to access legal advice on survivors’ access to protection and recovery.

The right to legal assistance is enshrined in international and regional instruments. The transformative impact of legal advice and representation on survivors of modern slavery has increasingly been recognised. Yet, effective access to quality legal assistance remains a critical concern for people with lived experience of modern slavery.

Lack of access to adequate and timely legal services triggers a series of negative impacts. These include difficulties in accessing and navigating the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), limited access to existing rights (such as welfare rights and compensation) and available services critical to recovery, and increased risk of re-trafficking or removal from the United Kingdom. While these impacts have been widely acknowledged, gaps remain in the understanding of survivors’ perspectives on the way in which access to legal services assists their wellbeing and recovery.

The research team will map relevant obligations and standards to the delivery of available, accessible, and quality legal assistance, as well as law firms, law centres, NGOs and others that are providing or facilitating access to legal advice for survivors. It will also assess the impact on the recovery and wellbeing of people with lived experience and identify promising practices promoting their access to legal advice.

Data will be collected through a survey for practitioners aimed at examining their perception of the scale of not accessing legal advice by modern slavery survivors and what they think would support enhanced access to it. It will also include two sets of focus groups (supplemented by interviews as appropriate), one with people with lived experience of modern slavery and another with NGOs and those facilitating legal advice.

The project will produce a research report and a policy brief highlighting findings and recommendations for policy development. The project will also develop tools to facilitate and encourage similar research to be undertaken in other jurisdictions. The project runs from April 2022 to September 2022 with outputs expected from August 2022 onwards.

Researchers: Jean-Pierre Gauci, Noemi Magugliani (BIICL), Lauren Saunders (Unseen UK)

This project was funded by an open call under the Modern Slavery PEC Responsive Research mechanism.