HUMAN trafficking could be tackled in Scotland under plans for a new law which is described as being the most comprehensive in the world.
A consultation launched by Labour MSP Jenny Marra seeks views on a range of measures designed to tackle the problem.
Her proposed Human Trafficking Bill aims to make it illegal to punish people forced to commit crime as a result of their trafficking.
It also calls for a “survivors’ service” for victims and would compel the Scottish Government to publish an anti-trafficking strategy, to be agreed by parliament every three years.
And it would establish a new single criminal offence and an associated offence of aiding, abetting or attempting to commit human trafficking.
Ms Marra said: “One victim of human trafficking is found in Scotland every four days, yet only five people have ever been convicted of human trafficking offences in Scotland.
“The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group has found evidence that victims of human trafficking, including children, are being held in Scottish jails for crimes they were forced to commit by traffickers. This situation is simply unacceptable.”
The start of the consultation was timed to coincide with a conference on the issue organised by Justice Scotland, which aims to improve access to justice.
Myria Vassiliadou, the European Union’s anti-trafficking co-ordinator, spoke at the conference. She said: “I strongly believe that if fully and swiftly implemented, this legislation can make a real difference for victims’ lives, prevent others from becoming victims and help to better address this horrible phenomenon.”
She will appear before MSPs on Holyrood’s European and external relations committee today to answer questions on human trafficking.
Dr Anne Gallagher, an expert on the international law on human trafficking, said: “Strong laws are an essential element of ending impunity for traffickers and securing justice for victims.
“The consultation is a critical step in developing such legislation, reflecting well on how seriously Scotland takes this issue … If passed, it would be the most innovative and comprehensive piece of anti-trafficking legislation in the world.”
Baroness Helena Kennedy, who led the Equality and Human Right’s Commission Inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland, said: “Human trafficking is one of the most pressing human rights violations in the contemporary world. It is a matter of crime, not immigration. So Scotland can, starting with this consultation, now move to have exemplar modern slavery legislation that is a beacon to others.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Human trafficking is a heinous crime. That’s why we are working with relevant agencies to make Scotland a hostile place for traffickers and to better identify and support potential victims.
“Following the human trafficking summit last year, we have introduced legislative proposals for a human trafficking statutory aggravation and are reviewing with other agencies current trafficking legislation to identify any potential gaps.
“We will give careful consideration to any bill brought forward on human trafficking.”