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New sentencing guidelines for modern slavery offences published

The first sentencing guidelines for offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, including slavery, forced labour, human trafficking or an offence committed to facilitate human trafficking, were published today by the Sentencing Council following consultation.

Under the new guidelines, which apply to England and Wales, judges and magistrates will give severe penalties of up to 18 years to offenders in a leading role who expect substantial financial advantage and who expose victims to an extremely high risk of death. They come into effect on 1 October 2021.

Also in the guidelines:

  • Offenders coerced or intimidated into committing slavery or human trafficking offences or are themselves victims, will have that fact recognised by the courts, which could see them receive comparatively lower sentences, where appropriate.
  • The harm caused to victims may not always be obvious, and the guidelines direct the courts to make sure they consider all the facts of the case, even where a victim is unwilling or unable to give evidence.

There is also guidance on sentencing offenders convicted of committing an offence to facilitate a human trafficking offence, which proposes an uplift of up to two years to the sentence that would have been imposed for the underlying offending. The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years, but where the underlying offence is kidnapping or false imprisonment, judges could impose life sentences.

Modern slavery offences, which come under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015, cover a broad range of offending, and the nature of the offences can differ. There are currently no sentencing guidelines for these offences.

The guidelines, which apply to adult offenders, cover the following offences:

Sentencing Council member, Rosina Cottage QC, said:

“Modern slavery targets vulnerable people who are exploited for financial gain by the offenders and can cause serious physical and psychological harm. Offending can take place over a long period of time, sometimes for years, and these new guidelines take account not only of the actions by the offender, but the impact on the victim.

“Offending can range from large-scale operations, with substantial financial gain, to offences carried out by offenders who are themselves victims either through coercion and intimidation and the sentencing range has been developed to reflect this.

“These guidelines will help to promote consistency of approach in this area, and to consolidate information that will assist courts to pass proportionate sentences when dealing with offenders convicted of modern slavery offences.”

The offence of human trafficking may involve recruiting, harbouring, receiving or transferring people across borders. But it can also be domestic, for example in cases of county lines trafficking and sexual assault.

Victims are typically vulnerable in some way, and while some may be physically restrained or imprisoned, others will be subject to threats and treatment which, combined with their vulnerability, make escape from their position an impossibility.

Notes to editors

  1. In addition to the offences in the new guidelines, MSA 2015 provides for various orders, including reparation orders, and slavery and trafficking risk and slavery and trafficking prevention orders, breach of which is a criminal offence.
  2. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so. If a judge or magistrate believes that a guideline prevents the correct sentence from being given in an exceptional case, he or she can sentence outside of the guideline.
  3. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation.
  4. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
  5. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email
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