Melbourne couple who kept a ‘slave’ for eight years gets two more years in jail

A Melbourne woman was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment yesterday (7 July, 2023) after being convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice during an AFP slavery investigation.

The Mount Waverley woman, Kumuthini Kannan, and her husband, Kandasamy Kannan, were convicted and jailed in 2021 after an AFP investigation established the couple had kept a victim as a slave for 8 years.

The couple had forced the victim to live in squalid conditions, while cooking, cleaning and caring for their children before she collapsed and was admitted to hospital with severe malnourishment, diabetes and gangrene of the feet and hands.

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During the sentencing, Justice John Champion observed:

“Slavery is regarded as a crime against humanity. Your offending occurred in the daily presence and with the obvious knowledge and comprehension of your children. You set them a deplorable example of how parents should act towards another human being.”

Further, Justice Champion noted that the couple has been “almost compulsive liars” and said: “This court publicly condemns you both for your disgraceful conduct.”

The AFP charged the couple in June 2016 with slavery offences and in 2020, while awaiting trial, the Mount Waverley woman attempted to pervert the course of justice by calling the victim to threaten her and warn her not to give evidence during the court proceedings.

AFP Detective Superintendent Simone Butcher said any attempt to tamper with the integrity of a trial was of serious concern to police.

She said:

“The AFP is committed to maintaining the integrity of our criminal justice system. No one is above the law, and the public should feel confident that anyone who tries to interfere with the judicial process is risking serious punishments.”

In February 2020, the AFP Human Trafficking Team charged the woman with attempting to pervert the course of justice, contrary to section 43 of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), and the matter was heard separately to the slavery proceedings.

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On 13 June 2023, the woman pleaded guilty to the offence and was yesterday (7 July, 2023) sentenced in the County Court of Victoria to a further two years and six months’ imprisonment. The Judge ordered that the sentence would start 18 months’ before the completion of her current sentence for the slavery offences.

The court had sentenced the woman to eight years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of four years for the slavery offences. Her husband, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of three years.

This took the head sentence to nine years, with a non-parole period of four years and six months. She will be eligible for parole in January 2026.

This is the first of its kind case solely about slavery by domestic servitude in Australia and experts say the longest period of enslavement in the country.

Justice Champion also noted that the concept of slavery needed to be redefined:

“Slavery can be much more subtle than that, and may not involve physical restraint. It must be reaffirmed as that possessing or using a person in a condition of slavery is repugnant, degrading of the human condition, and a gross breach of human rights.”

If you or someone you know is being exploited, help is available. For information and confidential advice please contact Australian Red Cross. Call (03) 9345 1800 or visit redcross.org.au/stpp.