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"As lawyers, we have so much power in our voices that I've always felt it is a moral duty to represent those who cannot represent themselves."

SJ Interview: Human trafficking and modern slavery

SJ Interview
SJ Interview: Human trafficking and modern slavery


A prominent barrister in the UK, Parosha Chandran is widely recognised as the leading authority on anti-slavery and human trafficking.

Throughout her illustrious 25-year career at the Bar of England and Wales, she has received numerous awards for her exceptional work. Renowned for her expertise, Parosha has collaborated with international institutions such as the UN, Council of Europe, and OSCE. Her dedication to combating human trafficking in the UK earned her an accolade from John Kerry, acknowledging her significant contributions in shaping the country's legal framework. Additionally, Parosha holds the position of Professor of Practice in Modern Slavery Law at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London.

In this interview, she sheds light on the extensive issue of human trafficking and modern slavery, both in the UK and globally. She delves into how her efforts have influenced legislation, while also discussing the crucial steps required to aid in the identification and assistance of victims.

What made you choose this field of human rights and human trafficking, and what continues to inspire you today?

As a student, I went to study human rights in Strasbourg, France at the International Institute of Human Rights. At that time, the war in Bosnia was raging, and I heard horrific stories of so many atrocities being committed by neighbours against each other. It became evident that the establishment of the world's first war crimes tribunal since Nuremberg was an important solution to bringing the conflict to an end.

This realisation made me understand that law can serve a purpose in saving lives by protecting human rights and this continues to inspire me today. And it was in 2003 when I started working in the field of human trafficking slavery and that is that as lawyers, we have so much power in our voices that I've always felt it is a moral duty to represent those who cannot represent themselves.

Tell us more about your background; what cases inspired you today:

When I returned to England, I dedicated myself to assisting trafficking victims who lacked legal protection in the United Kingdom. Drawing upon my understanding of Human Rights law, I aimed to enable legal precedents to be established in English courts. I brought the first case.

My efforts focused on safeguarding the rights of trafficking victims. Initially, I achieved a significant milestone by successfully presenting the first case that secured refugee protection for trafficking victims. Subsequently, I pursued another groundbreaking case that prevented victims from facing prosecution for offenses which came as a direct consequence of their trafficking.

Furthermore, I took the initiative to bring the first successful case to the European Court of Human Rights against the United Kingdom, for failing to grant protection humanitarian protection to a young Ugandan child who had been trafficked for sex.

Additionally, I brought the first case against the Metropolitan Police for their failure to investigate a human trafficker involved in exploiting a victim in London. By doing all of that I was able to create precedents making human trafficking an illegal practice. That lead to me receiving the award of Barrister of the Year in 2008 by Law Society, further motivating me to continue my work in combating human trafficking and advocating for the rights of its victims. Despite the changes that have been made, I feel there is still so much to be done, and this inspires me further.

Can you elaborate more about human trafficking in the UK?

One of the main challenges in the UK remain regarding the need for protection of trafficking victims who are prosecuted or punished for crimes that their traffickers force them to commit.

Several significant cases, including my representation of A.N. in the landmark case V.C.L and A.N. v. the United Kingdom (2021) before the European Court of Human Rights, have set global precedents on the rights of trafficking victims. These precedents ensure that victims not only receive formal identification as trafficking victims but also avoid prosecution.

However, despite this landmark judgment and the efforts made by myself and others to establish legal protection against punishment for trafficking victims, I am dismayed to see that such cases are still being brought against them. Trafficking victims are being coerced into committing crimes by their traffickers. One glaring example of this can be observed in the county lines cases, where criminal gangs exploit children, primarily, to transport Class A drugs across the entire United Kingdom.

These children are often subjected to severe threats and violence. It is worth noting that many of these children come from backgrounds characterized by family conflicts, learning difficulties, or residing in care homes. These vulnerabilities make them easier targets for grooming and harm compared to children who are otherwise better protected.

What changes can be implemented domestically to better help protect victims?

It's essential for there to be safeguarding and training law enforcement to be able to remove children who are found in these types of environments where they may well have committed on the surface serious drug-related crimes. However, it is crucial to have trained experts who can communicate with the children and understand exactly what happened.

If the child can provide evidence or intelligence regarding who was responsible, it can be used against the traffickers. In cases where the child is too frightened to do so, they must still be protected. These types of policies that are critical today. Yet, I'm still not seeing evidence of this being implemented. If we continue to prosecute children in these cases, the UK will remain a hotbed for human trafficking, especially concerning children for criminal activities.

It is also vital to have policies that can help identify victims. When we have a lack of political will to identify victims and insufficient training among various actors who may encounter potential trafficking victims, including police, immigration border officials, doctors, lawyers, and social service providers, it leads to consistently low identification rates of victims.

This holds particularly true for children who have been coerced into engaging in criminal activities, as they often face limited protection and few incentives for coming forward. In the case of the UK, for instance, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of identified victims, but shockingly, the figures remain alarmingly low. Recent developments, such as the government's Illegal Migration Bill, aim to restrict the rights of trafficking victims to be identified. However, evidence suggests that individuals who have been successfully identified as trafficking victims in the UK are more likely to be genuine cases rather than falsely claiming victimhood. It is crucial to engage in further discussions regarding the implementation of policies that effectively identify and safeguard trafficking victims.

You’ve worked with various international organisations, including the Council of Europe and the UN. Can you speak to the importance of international cooperation and collaboration in combating modern slavery and human trafficking?

The importance of this issue is underscored by recent reports from the United Nations, which confirm that trafficking-associated criminal activity is on the rise worldwide. Traffickers are aware that their victims, even if arrested, prosecuted, and convicted, will ultimately be freed.

The trafficking victim status has been acknowledged by both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons. They have presented direct evidence of high acceptance rates when it comes to recognizing individuals as trafficking victims rather than false claimants.

The recent Trafficking in Persons report from the United States, which evaluates countries individually and globally, reveals the alarming fact that less than 0.5 per cent of trafficking victims worldwide are identified. It's disheartening to realize that even though trafficking ranks among the top three largest black-market economies, generating billions of dollars in revenue for traffickers, the victims themselves are often denied their rights to assistance, recovery, compensation, and legal support.

While we have faced domestic issues such as the Rochdale and Rotherham cases involving the grooming and sexual exploitation of girls, human trafficking is predominantly a cross-border problem. It encompasses trafficking into, across, and from the UK. It is important to acknowledge that other countries face similar challenges, with traffickers employing the same methods. Human trafficking knows no boundaries, and every nation is impacted by its devastating effects.

How much has technology played a role in facilitating human trafficking, and could you see it playing a bigger role in combatting it in the future?

This has had a massive impact on trafficking globally. Covid-19 really amplified its dominance as a method of recruitment in the future. It’s estimated in some areas that 85 per cent of trafficking takes place online, whether it’s adverts, social media, or whether its conversations to groom victims and get them in the hands of traffickers.

It’s worrying that traffickers are often ahead of the times and able to find grey areas and blind spots where they can exercise full control and gain full impunity for their actions. No government in the world has shown it can keep up; we are so behind worldwide with governments putting in sufficient resources – especially into civil society - so enough can be done for looking after and helping trafficking victims.

Tech companies are also not playing enough of a role to partner with countries and recruitment taking place within its jurisdiction. This is an area of expertise where technology specialists and states need to collaborate more and build more of an understanding on what legal regulations need to take place, how we can find trafficking groups and individuals through websites that are hidden.

There are jurisdictional problems, such as how do you find someone who has been groomed online, when the perpetrator might live thousands of miles away? It is one of the key questions of our time: how can we use and regulate technology to enable us to combat trafficking?

How do you balance your commitments as a professor and a barrister, and how do you feel these roles compliment or benefit each other?

While I’ve been at the bar 26 years, being invited by Kings College to take up such a position is such a privilege for me. I take a semester every year. I meet students from so many countries across the world, interested in combatting modern slavery (the umbrella term for slave labour, debt bondage, slavery, and sexual exploitation). It’s very illuminating for me to discuss my cases and experiences with my passionate and well-prepared students and give them a practical insight into how as a lawyer one can contribute to protecting victims of human abuses and advocating for case law. Not only do I enjoy giving my perspectives, but I take so much energy and joy from interacting with my students. They give me a sense of inspiration in continuing to do what I do. It’s wonderful to see that they will be the future leaders.

What advice do you have for people who may want to pursue a career in human rights law?

Learn as much as you can. Go to conferences, listen to subject-matter experts. Join societies, networks, and clubs where you can exchange and connect with others. The world of human rights is a caring world, driven by a shared desire to help other people. Acquire knowledge and practical experience in any area of human rights, and if it feels like it’s giving to you emotionally and mentally then it’s the field for you. It’s very beneficial to work with NGOs and charities in the field, whether it is by volunteering or gaining an internship, I have learned so much myself through doing this and learning what these organisations aim to do. When you become a human rights lawyer, you’ll have to balance pro-bono work with making an income and making a difference, so it will be helpful to have multiple commitments going.