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Access to legal advice and representation for survivors of modern slavery

Report analysing legal representation for survivors in England.

This is a Research Summary and a full report Access to legal advice and representation for survivors of modern slavery, by Dr Samantha Currie and Dr Matthew Young from the University of Liverpool. The research team was comprised of: Dr Samantha Currie, Dr Matthew Young, Johanna Bezzano (University of Liverpool), Victoria Marks (Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit), Lucy Mair (Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester), Dr Katarina Schwarz and Dr Katy Ferris (the Rights Lab, University of Nottingham).

The researchers analysed the experience of immigration lawyers and support providers working with people with lived experience of modern slavery in England about their experience of the system providing legal aid, particularly those working at the nexus of the UK immigration system and the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework designed to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery in the UK.

Key findings

  • Legal advice and representation for survivors of modern slavery are key to being formally recognised as a victim, securing immigration status and upholding their rights. These in turn are foundational to the ability of survivors to make progress towards recovery and reducing their vulnerability to re-trafficking.
  • There are significant barriers for survivors to access legal aid, including uncertainty about the extent of survivors’ entitlement. The funding structure for immigration legal aid discourages lawyers from taking on modern slavery cases, contributes to a shortfall in available legal provision, and is inadequate to deliver good quality legal advice and representation to survivors.
  • Engagement with the NRM process and interaction with First Responders could be improved to be more constructive and meaningful for survivors.


The report urged the Government to change the way legal aid is funded to make sure lawyers have capacity to provide good quality support. A key change would be to switch payments available to lawyers when working on immigration cases involving survivors to an hourly basis. This would ensure that lawyers could be paid appropriately for the work carried out.

The report also recommended that survivors be entitled to receive legally aided advice prior to referral into the NRM, to improve their understanding of the referral and its implications.

The report also urged the Government to take steps to ensure people with lived experience of modern slavery with insecure immigration status who are identified as victims of modern slavery through the NRM, by automatically granting them a minimum of one year Leave to Remain.