Case of C.N. v. the United Kingdom
Victims / Plaintiffs in the first instance
Defendants / Respondents in the first instance
In 2002, the applicant C.N. travelled to the UK from Uganda to escape the sexual and physical violence. Her relative S., who lived in London, helped her obtain a false passport and a visa to enter the UK, but on C.N.’s arrival he took these documents away and did not return them to her. In early 2003, a certain M. arranged for C.N. a job as a live-in carer for an elderly Iraqi couple (Mr. and Mrs. K). The job was emotionally and physically demanding, with C.N. being on-call twenty four hours a day and having only one afternoon per month off. C.N.’s wages were sent to M., who would then pass on a percentage to S. C.N. would only occasionally receive a small amount of money from S. C.N. was constantly warned by S. and his partner H. not to speak with anyone and threatened by denunciation to the authorities.
In August 2006, C.N. decided to go to a local bank to alert the police to her situation. Before the police arrived, she collapsed in public, and was later diagnosed with HIV and psychosis. Following her discharge from hospital, C.N. was housed by the local authority and made an application for asylum, which was later rejected on the grounds that the applicant could access protection in Uganda to prevent further sexually motivated attacks and that the applicant could have tried to escape from S. earlier. Her appeal was dismissed, with the Judge expressing serious concerns about C.N.’s credibility and finding much of her account to be implausible.
In April 2006, C.N.’s solicitor wrote to the police, asking them to investigate her case. The investigation into the applicant’s complaints was commenced by the Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Team. In September 2007, they informed the applicant’s solicitor that there “was no evidence of trafficking for domestic servitude”. Likewise, in September 2008, they noted that “there was no evidence to substantiate the applicant’s allegation that she had been trafficked into the UK. She had been well looked after by the K family, although there had been a dispute over money and it may have been that her cousin kept more than he should have done.” Again, in late September 2008, the police stated that “it was decided that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation of trafficking and thus further investigation was not warranted.”
In December 2008, C.N. was assessed by the Poppy Project, a Government funded project providing housing and support for victims of trafficking, who concluded that she had been subjected to five of the six indicators of forced labour, as identified by the ILO. In particular, her movement had been restricted to the workplace, her wages were withheld to pay a debt she did not know about, her salary was withheld for four years, her passport was retained, and she was subjected to threats of denunciation to the authorities.
In February 2009, the Police noted that there “was no evidence that would support exploitation of any kind”, as defined in Section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 on trafficking. Later, in March 2009, the police recorded that “there was no evidence to show that this female was a victim of slavery or forced labour.” Finally, in August 2009 the police wrote to the applicant’s solicitor, indicating that her case did not appear to constitute an offence of trafficking for the purpose of exploitation, and that they were not aware of any specific offence of forced labour or servitude in English criminal law which would apply to the facts of the case.
Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which received Royal Assent in November 2009, made slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour criminal offences punishable by a fine and/up to fourteen years imprisonment, however, it came into force in April 2010 and did not have retrospective effect.
Charges / Claims / Decisions
C.N. complained that there had been a failure to properly investigate her complaints and that this failure had been at least in part rooted in defective legislation which did not effectively criminalize treatment falling within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention.
The Government argued that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the applicant had been subjected to slavery, domestic servitude or forced or compulsory labour. It further submitted that the protection afforded by English law against conduct prohibited by Article 4 was sufficient to discharge the positive obligation on the State. At the time of the conduct alleged by C.N., there were a number of offences in English law which criminalized the essential aspects of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, such as false imprisonment, kidnapping, grievous bodily harm, assault, blackmail, harassment, and a number of employment-related offences. The Government also argued that the evidence gathered had shown that C.N. had entered the UK voluntarily, had worked voluntarily, and had agreed that her wages should be paid to a family member in order to avoid her detection by the authorities as an illegal immigrant.
The Court reiterated its findings in Siliadin judgment, by stating that Article 4 entailed a specific positive obligation on member States to penalize and prosecute effectively any act aimed at maintaining a person in a situation of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. The Court stated that a violation of Article 4 was present where the authorities had failed to take appropriate measures within the scope of their powers to remove the individual from that situation or risk. The Court, however, emphasized that for an obligation to investigate to have arisen, it must be satisfied that the applicant’s complaints to the domestic authorities gave rise to a credible suspicion that she had been held in domestic servitude.
The Court concluded that the legislative provisions in force in the UK at the relevant time were inadequate to afford practical and effective protection against treatment falling within the scope of Article 4. “Instead of enabling the authorities to investigate and penalise such treatment, the authorities were limited to investigating and penalising criminal offences which often – but do not necessarily – accompany the offences of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Victims of such treatment who were not also victims of one of these related offences were left without any remedy.” (para. 76)
The Court further considered whether the lack of specific legislation criminalizing domestic servitude prevented the domestic authorities from properly investigating the applicant’s complaints, or whether C.N.’s complaints were properly investigated but no evidence was found to support them. The Court observed that the investigation into the applicant’s complaints was carried out by a specialist trafficking unit and while investigators occasionally referred to slavery, forced labour and domestic servitude, it was clear that at all times their focus had been on the offence enshrined in Section 4 of the 2004 Act, i.e. trafficking. Domestic servitude is, however, a specific offence, distinct from trafficking and exploitation, which involves a complex set of dynamics, involving both overt and more subtle forms of coercion, to force compliance. In the present case, the Court considered that, because of the absence of a specific offence of domestic servitude, the domestic authorities were unable to give due weight to these factors.
Accordingly, there had been a violation of Article 4 of the Convention.
The applicant complained under Article 8 of the Convention that her right to respect for her private and family life was profoundly violated by the treatment she was subjected to between 2002 and 2006. She further complained under Article 13 that the absence of any specific criminal offence of domestic servitude or forced labour denied her an effective remedy in respect of her complaints under Article 4 and Article 8 of the Convention.
The Court, having regard to its findings under Article 4, considered that no separate issue arose under Articles 8 and 13 of the Convention.
Sources / Citations
Case of C.N. v. the United Kingdom, no. 4239/08, ECHR. Available at: