HOLYROOD has passed landmark legislation to tackle human trafficking with better protection for victims and tougher penalties for those convicted.
MSPs unanimously voted for the law which creates a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time as well as increases the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.
It is the duty of everyone in this parliament to speak up for the voicelessJenny Marra
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill was brought forward by the Scottish Government to strengthen existing criminal law against the practice and enhance the status of, and support for, victims.
Prosecutors will be given guidance from the Lord Advocate setting out a presumption against prosecution in cases where trafficked people have been forced into committing crime.
The legislation will also commit Scottish ministers to publishing and updating a human trafficking strategy.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson set out the bill, which also places a duty on ministers to ensure there is a guardian service available for child victims. He said: “The bill will clarify and strengthen criminal law by introducing a new and comprehensive single human trafficking offence.
“It gives Scotland’s law enforcement agencies further tools in their locker to bring those responsible for human trafficking and exploitation to justice.
“The bill ensures adult victims of trafficking will now have a statutory entitlement to support and assistance that meets their individual needs.”
Labour equalities spokeswoman Jenny Marra, whose Human Trafficking Members’ Bill was adopted by the Scottish Government as the basis for its own bill, said Holyrood had a duty to pass the law.
Ms Marra said: I have never met a victim of human trafficking.
“But it is my duty, and the duty of everyone in this parliament, to speak up for the voiceless and use the powers of this place to improve our communities, our society and constantly make our communities more resilient against gendered, exploitative and violent crime.”
Holyrood’s backing for the law was welcomed by faith leaders as a “powerful deterrent to this atrocious crime”.
Dr Hazel Watson, convener of the Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group, said: “This will, when enacted, send a strong message to those who treat others as mere commodities for profit and their own selfish purposes.“