Hogan Lovells secures landmark win in Essex lorry human trafficking case

Wed, 19 January 2022

London, Brussels, 19 January 2022 - Global law firm Hogan Lovells has secured a historic win for its client Pacific Links Foundation, who are representing a number of families of the “Essex 39”. In a landmark judgment handed down today, the Bruges Court of First Instance ruled that a damages award should be made in favour of a number of victims, who tragically died in a refrigerated lorry, having been trafficked to the UK via Belgium on 23 October 2019. 

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This is a ground-breaking decision, which recognises that victims of human trafficking are entitled to compensation. Hogan Lovells also argued on behalf of the victims that this case of human trafficking was an intentional act of violence. In order to give some reparation for the crimes committed, funds have been confiscated from the traffickers and an amount will be distributed to some of the families of those affected. 

Liam Naidoo, partner at Hogan Lovells, said, “There is a clear legal, moral and ethical imperative that victims of human trafficking should be given access to compensation. This is a ground-breaking judgment in the prosecution of human trafficking crimes, which we hope will help to deter further trafficking from happening in the future. Whilst funds can never be a substitute for the loss of life, the damages award gives recognition of the horrific acts by the perpetrators and ensures accountability for those acts.  It is an important step towards restorative justice.”

Yasmin Waljee, International Pro Bono partner, added: “We have been advocating for victims to receive compensation from confiscated funds for some time. This landmark judgment strengthens the case for the use of existing international and national legal frameworks to fund damages for victims of human trafficking and other abuses.” 

The case forms part of Hogan Lovells’ commitment to access to justice and obtaining reparations for victims of human trafficking. In the UK, Hogan Lovells has been instructed by Pacific Links Foundation to ensure that asset confiscation and payment of reparations are at the heart of the criminal justice process in this case, which has been possible due to the diligence of Essex Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Crime Agency. 

Commenting on the importance of using confiscation to reduce human trafficking, Dame Sara Thornton, the UK's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said, “Trafficking rings are often extensive and involve complex networks of criminal activity. It must be a priority to focus on proper financial investigation into trafficking gangs so as to understand the true scale of the crime and to stop financial benefit from it. In this way we can ensure the interruption of trafficking networks and challenge their continued existence. Confiscation and compensation can then work together to give some semblance of reparation to the victims for the hurt that has been suffered.”

Speaking about the wider context of human trafficking in Vietnam, Co-Founder and President of Pacific Links Foundation, Diep Vuong noted, “Tragedies like this one are preventable only with the partnerships of governments, businesses, and community organisations. While our hearts continue to mourn the horrendous losses with the victims' families, we will strengthen tools and resources for vulnerable migrant communities and reduce the expansion of trafficking and smuggling rings.”

Given the sensitivity of the case, we ask that the privacy of the families is respected at this difficult time.

The Hogan Lovells legal team includes Liam Naidoo (Partner), Fabien Roy (Partner), Samantha Campbell (Partner), Rhian Lewis (Senior Associate), Raphael Fleischer (Senior Associate and Advocate before the Belgian Court), Danny Knowles (Associate), Hang Nguyen (Senior Translator) and Yasmin Waljee OBE (Partner, International Pro Bono).

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