Terror Suspects Like Shamima Begum Could Exploit Modern Slavery Law, Says UK Watchdog

By Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
September 2, 2022 Updated: September 2, 2022

The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Jonathan Hall QC, has said the definition of modern slavery in Britain is so broad that it is open to exploitation by terrorism suspects.

Hall told The Times: “The definition and the way in which the law is applied is over broad.”

He said he was concerned juveniles who were recruited by a terrorist organisation like ISIS or al-Qaeda were “automatically” victims of trafficking or modern slavery, even “if they did so entirely of their own free will.”

“It is at odds with the fact that children are not generally seen as victims when they commit other crimes, just because someone suggests they should do so,” Hall added.

Earlier this year a 16-year-old girl, who was radicalised by the far-right online, walked free after terrorism charges were dropped against her after he was portrayed in court as a victim of trafficking.

‘Wider Ramifications’ of Teenage Girl’s Case

Hall said there were “wider ramifications” from the case and he said: “Our UK law goes beyond international obligations by allowing people the defence on the basis they are a victim of slavery or trafficking.”

Earlier this week it was reported that a new book, The Secret History of the Five Eyes, by Richard Kerbaj, a former security correspondent at The Sunday Times, claimed Shamima Begum was smuggled into Syria in 2015 by a people trafficker who claimed to work for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Begum, who is now 23, grew up in east London to parents of Bangladeshi origin and left the UK in 2015 to travel to Syria with two teenage female friends.

She married a Dutch jihadist and had three children, all of whom died. She claims she was groomed and trafficked.

Begum remains in a refugee camp in northern Syria after the British government stripped her of her British nationality.

Hall said it was a “distraction” for the police and prosecutors to be constantly worrying about whether a young terror suspect was themselves a victim.

The Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced in 2015 by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, offers a defence for criminal acts which were committed by someone who was effectively enslaved or trafficked.

A spokesman for Sadiq Khan told The Times: “Whilst the full facts are not clear, what is clear is that Shamima Begum was a child when she travelled to Syria and she may well have been trafficked there. If these reports are true, then the Home Office should answer for why this was not taken into account when the revocation of Shamima’s citizenship was decided.”

Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.