Article 4: Slavery

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. No one shall be required to perform forced labour

An absolute right under the European Convention;  subject to states’ “operational” duties to identify and protect against violations.

Siwa-Akofa Siliadi: European Court benchmark case
The first slavery case to be tried anywhere in modern Europe was at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 2005, about this young woman who was trafficked from Tonga to France for slavery. The court found that France had violated European Convention Article 4 because there were no systems in place to support this absolute right.

Patience Asuquo
Neither did Britain have anti=slavery systems in place. Patience, of Nigerian background, was our first case and was 22 when she went to court in 2007. She had worked in London for nearly three years for only £50 per week, and was subject to verbal and physical abuse by her employer, a solicitor called Mrs. Kenny Gbaya. When a neighbour helped Patience escape and took her to the police, they quickly closed the case. The Human Rights organisation Liberty then argued that by failing to investigate a potential violation of this right, the Metropolitan Police Force had broken its obligation under the HR Act Section-6-Compliance to work compliantly with the rights.

Since forced labour was not at that time a crime in Britain, the case was referred to the Crown Court on grounds of criminal abuse by Mrs. Gbaya. She was convicted although her punishment was minimal. The UK Human Trafficking Centre in London is named after Patience.

O.o.o. (3 Nigerian women) v.  Metropolitan Police
Finally in a benchmark UK case in 2011, the High Court found that the Met had again violated Article 4 by failing to investigate the credible reports of slavery, servitude or forced labour of these three women.
LexisWeb re O.O.O.

This case is in line with others about the operational (proactive) duty to investigate potential violations of the absolute rights. It also established in UK case law that the police must work compliantly with the Convention rights (HR Act Section 6), and along with other cases dented the tradition that the police have immunity as regards human rights.

In fact the UK only ratified the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in 2008, and it was not until the Coroners and Justice Act (2009) Right to Life: Middleton that the UK Parliament caught up with the situation and made forced labour a specific crime.  The Modern Slavery Act (2015) then fully recognised the crime.

This sequence from court cases to Parliament’s laws is typical for Britain’s development of responses to human rights issues, and shows that relying on our human rights traditions is completely insufficient. “Ever vigilant” must be the policy, and as in these cases it is the Human Rights Act that provides this vigilance.

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