Defendants fail to delay modern slavery case into 2016 as High Court says defence needs to be filed and served by the end of October 2015

A Kent based company, which is being sued by six Lithuanian men over claims arising from trafficking and labour exploitation, has failed in its attempt to have a civil trial against it delayed until 2016.

The six men have brought claims for compensation against DJ Houghton Catching Services Limited (DJ Houghton), and the company’s director and secretary, Darrell Houghton and Jacqueline Judge.

At a hearing in the High Court today (11 August 2015) before Master Yoxall, the Houghton defendants argued that the case should be delayed until next year so as to allow them more time to prepare their defence. Despite knowing about the claim since April 2015, they argued they needed more time to review documents that their own counsel described as “in a state of chaos”.

However, Master Yoxall ruled that a further 6 month extension was too long, and ordered that the Houghton defendants file and serve their defence by 30 October 2015.

Following filing of the defence, all other steps in the litigation can commence, including the setting of the date for trial.

“We’re very pleased,” said Shanta Martin, partner at Leigh Day, the law firm representing the claimants. “Our clients want to be able to regain control over their lives, which compensation would greatly assist them with.

“Today’s result is an important step forward in achieving that outcome; the sooner the case can be finalised, the sooner our clients can get on with the rest of their lives.”

This is believed to be the first legal case of its kind, where a British company is being taken to the High Court by victims of “modern slavery” seeking compensation for their alleged abuse and mistreatment.

Background

Six Lithuanian men are accusing the Kent-based company of liability for trafficking the men and subjecting them to severe labour exploitation.

The claimants were trafficked into the UK from Lithuania by a man allegedly engaged by the Houghtons to find workers for their chicken catching business.

Five of the men have been officially recognised as victims of trafficking by the National Crime Agency’s UK Human Trafficking Centre.

The men were employed by DJ Houghton between 2008 and 2012 to catch birds in chicken houses and load them onto trucks bound for processing plants.

The farms on which the men worked supplied chickens and free-range eggs, including for major brands such as “Happy Eggs”, available in supermarkets across Britain.

After starting work with DJ Houghton, the claimants say they were required to pay an employment “fee”, which immediately placed them in debt, were housed in overcrowded and dirty accommodation, and subjected to intimidation and abuse.

They worked on near continuous rota throughout the day and night, often travelling and working for days on end, with no provision of beds, food or toilet stops while travelling.

The claimants allege they were not paid the minimum wage and their wages were often withheld. As one of the men, Antanas Galdikas, described, "We felt trapped. We felt we were being treated like slaves.”