Picture of new anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton

New Anti-Slavery Commissioner announced

The Government today announced that the new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be Sara Thornton, a former chief constable at Thames Valley Police.

Ms Thornton replaces Kevin Hyland OBE, who was the UK’s first anti-slavery commissioner and who resigned from the role in May last year, citing government interference as a significant frustration during his tenure.

Mr Hyland repeated these claims when he then gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee last October.

The role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was created as part of the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 with a remit to provide independent advice on improving efforts to tackle modern slavery.

There are estimated to be as many as 136,000 people in modern slavery across the UK and globally that figure is as high as 40 million.

Concerns about the independence of the role

Following the abrupt departure of Mr Hyland, very serious concerns were raised about the independence of the role and whether under the current system, the Government is overly involved.

Mr Hyland was appointed in part because he had prior experience and knowledge of modern slavery from his time running the Met’s human trafficking investigations team. It is not clear exactly what experience and expertise Ms Thornton has when it comes to modern slavery.

During the recruitment process for the new commissioner, the First interim Report of the panel set up to conduct the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was published, focusing exclusively on the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

In the report, the review panel highlighted the absolute necessity of the Commissioner’s independence: “He/she must have the freedom to scrutinise and advise on the efforts of Government department and agencies, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and others in the area of prevention, prosecution and protection.” 

Given the centrality of the Commissioner’s independence, the panel urged the Government to stop the recruitment process, until the concerns had been addressed. The Home Secretary, however, rejected these proposals.

CARE’s Senior Policy Officer for Human Trafficking, Louise Gleich said:

“The role of the independent anti-slavery commissioner is a key part of the Modern Slavery Act and fulfils an absolutely vital role in scrutinising efforts to address modern slavery here in the UK.

“We welcome Ms Thornton to the job and look forward to seeing how she plans to take this very challenging role forward.

“CARE shares the concerns expressed in the first interim report from the review panel of the Modern Slavery Act about the independence of the role.

“For the Commissioner to succeed, she needs to be free to do her job without unnecessary interference or pressure from the Government.

“I hope that Ms Thornton will be committed to providing independent scrutiny and willing to challenge the Home Office where necessary. 

"It would be great if Ms Thornton also keeps the victim-first focus of the first Commissioner, Mr Hyland.

“There is much still to be done in tackling modern slavery across the UK and CARE looks forward to working with Ms Thornton in the coming months to strengthen the effectiveness of our anti-slavery laws.”

More about the review of the Modern Slavery Act

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was hailed as ground-breaking, and the UK Government has sought to take a leading role in the fight against modern day slavery promoting the Act around the world. 

However, there are areas of the Act which could be strengthened and CARE welcomes the Government’s decision to review the legislation.

The members of the panel conducting the review are Frank Field MP, Maria Miller MP and Baroness Butler-Sloss. They were asked to focus on four areas of the Modern Slavery Act and produce a report for the Home Secretary by March 2019. CARE has submitted evidence to the review.

The four areas they are looking at are:

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Transparency in supply chains

Independent Child Trafficking Advocates

The legal application of the Act (including the definition of exploitation, reparation orders and the statutory defence)

Find out more

You can find out more about the review here

For more on CARE’s on-going work on modern slavery see here

WATCH: Lord McColl, the Peer behind the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill explains why his Bill is so important in helping and empowering victims

Please note: picture courtesy of STEVE PARSONS /WPA POOL/GETTY IMAGES

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