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Helpful High Court decision concerning the human trafficking concepts of “recruitment” and “purpose”


On 22 March 2024, His Honour Judge Antony Dunne (sitting as a High Court Judge) handed down judgment in R (MT) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2024] EWHC 640 (Admin).  Sian Reeves appeared for the Home Secretary (“SSHD”).   

The claim for judicial review challenged the decision of the SSHD that there were no reasonable grounds to conclude that the Claimant is a victim of modern slavery.  The claim was dismissed following a substantive hearing on 5 March 2024.   

The Claimant’s case was that his unpaid work on a construction site in Albania had made him vulnerable (akin to a period of grooming) and that his employer had intended to exploit him into drug dealing. The sole ground of challenge was that the SSHD had erred in law in concluding that the Claimant’s recruitment into construction work in Albania was not for the “purpose” of exploitation in the form of forced criminality (drug dealing).    

In considering the Claimant’s ground of challenge, the Judge had regard to the agreed fact that the Claimant was recruited to work on the construction site 6 months prior to the employer’s attempt to force him to deal drugs. In dismissing this ground of challenge, the Judge held that there was nothing unlawful or irrational in the SSHD’s decision that the purpose of the recruitment was to offer the Claimant construction work and that at time of the recruitment, there was no intention to groom the Claimant into selling drugs 6 months later.     

In reaching his decision, the Judge applied the “common sense guidance” given by the Court of Appeal in MN & IXU v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] EWCA 1746; [2021] WLR 1956 at [342]:   “The concept of “purpose” must be applied as a matter of ordinary language and common sense, having regard to what may reasonably be supposed to be the intended scope of ECAT” and “We certainly think that it is dangerous to substitute a test of “immediacy”: the distance of time between the act and any possible future exploitation will be relevant to an assessment of whether the one is done for the purpose of the other, but it cannot be the touchstone.”  

The Judge also rejected the Claimant’s submission that the Claimant’s recruitment was a process that continued throughout his employment on the construction site.  In his judgment at [52], the Judge held:   “In my view the Claimant’s suggested definition of “recruitment” distorts the natural meaning of the word. The word “recruitment” means the process of selecting people for work. Recruitment is therefore an action that takes place at the start of the employment relationship and is not a continuing process. In the context of modern slavery, the ECAT guidance provides some support for this interpretation of the definition of recruitment, or at the very least does not undermine it. Paragraph 78 of the ECAT guidance states that the ECAT definition of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons “endeavours to encompass the whole sequence of actions that leads to exploitation of the victim”. “Recruitment” is the first of those actions in the sequence, which is consistent with the natural meaning of the word….”  

A link to the judgment can be found here  

William Irwin appeared for the SSHD in the case of MN & IXU.      

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