Wednesday, 18th March 2020

Today, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of MS (Pakistan) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department – a decision which will impact trafficked children’s ability to lead stable lives in the long term. The Court’s decision includes a number of important considerations submitted by ECPAT UK, an intervening party in the appeal.

MS was born in Pakistan where, for four years, he faced labour exploitation and physical abuse by his family members. At 16 he was trafficked to the UK believing he was coming here to study, but instead he was deceived and again exploited. He never accessed education and received no pay for his labour while his relatives profited financially. For over a year he was exploited in various restaurants until he came to the attention of the police who referred him to children’s services.

Social workers then referred then referred MS into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s system for identifying and officially recognising victims of trafficking and modern slavery – as they suspected he was a victim of trafficking. Coming to the attention of the authorities should have been the beginning of MS’s recovery from the trauma of this abuse, but instead he was failed at every stage by those who were meant to protect him.

This includes the police, who the Supreme Court found did not carry out any investigation into the offences that may have been committed against him. The Court maintained that ‘the Upper Tribunal rightly held that “it is inconceivable that an effective police investigation and any ensuing prosecution could be conducted without the full assistance and co-operation of the appellant. Realistically this will not be feasible if he is removed to Pakistan”. The appeal was allowed on that basis.

Another important aspect of this case, which will impact all victims, is the Supreme Court’s finding that the immigration tribunal is in no way bound by the decisions of the National Referral Mechanism. This is a critical issue for children and young people who, for a variety of reasons, may receive an NRM decision stating that they are not a victim of trafficking even when they are victims and face significant risk of harm if returned to their countries of origin.

The judgment also emphasises the legal importance of the protection owed to victims under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which states that “no-one shall be held in slavery or servitude etc”. This is read alongside the UK’s obligations to victims under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT). 

It gave prominence to the need for a coordinated approach between State bodies, as this case highlighted the fact that by denying MS the protective measures he was due under ECAT, including secure immigration status, he was unable to co-operate in the investigation and prosecution of his traffickers. 

As this long path to justice and stability finally ends for MS, the fact is that at the heart of this case was a 16 year old young person who, for years after coming to the attention of the authorities, had no access to protection and was kept in immigration limbo.

Laura Durán, Senior Policy and Research Officer at ECPAT UK, said

‘MS is a young person who was exploited as a child and subsequently failed at every turn by processes set up to protect him. As this case set outs, he was not recognised as a victim, provided the support and protection this would entail. As he transitioned into adulthood, MS was facing abject immigration precarity, appealing his asylum claim up the tribunal system like many other child survivors ECPAT UK supports.

‘This decision is a step in the right direction to ensure victims are protected and that there is official recognition of the need for a coordinated approach between State bodies. This case highlighted that MS’s situation was treated as an immigration matter rather than a child protection matter within the scope of protection for child survivors of exploitation.

‘While the Court’s decision doesn’t go as far as ECPAT UK had hoped, it will act as a building block for further legal decisions. This case is not only important for MS but for all victims of trafficking across the UK. ECPAT UK is campaigning for all child victims to be able to access their rights, recover in the long term and live stable lives.

‘ECPAT UK is very grateful to Zubier Yazdani from Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, Raza Husain QC and Eleanor Mitchell from Matrix Chambers, and Shane Sibbel from Blackstone Chambers who represented us pro bono in this important case.’


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 0207 607 2136