SCOTLAND’S top lawyers have warned that current human trafficking laws are insufficient and backed Jenny Marra MSP’s bid to introduce new powers.
The Labour politician wants the Scottish Government to adopt the UN’s Palermo protocol, which she believes sets a gold standard for tackling the crime.
Her private members bill would be aimed at stopping the criminalisation of victims of trafficking, by making it illegal to punish those who have been forced to commit crime as a result of their trafficking, create a minimum set of standards for victims of human trafficking, and compel the Scottish Government to publish an anti-trafficking strategy.
The Scottish Government has already proposed a trafficking aggravation, which when attached to other crimes would lead to tougher sentences, and Police Scotland has created a specialist trafficking unit.
However, the Faculty of Advocates believes this does not go far enough.
In a statement, it said: “The Faculty of Advocates is in broad agreement with the aims and summary objectives of the Bill. The faculty agrees that there is a need for legislative provision to combat trafficking and to protect victims in order to fulfil obligations under international and European law.”
It added: “Whilst there has been some legislative provision to criminalise trafficking, the faculty is concerned at the lack of domestic legislation to ensure the protection of victims of trafficking and the safeguarding of their rights under the Trafficking Convention and under EU law.”
The faculty said that, at present, identifying victims through the National Referral Mechanism was based on government guidance, but a lengthy guidance document “is an inadequate and unclear method of implementing international obligations whose aim is the protection of vulnerable individuals”.
It said it agreed with the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that legislation criminalising human trafficking in Scotland had developed piecemeal, was inconsistent and lacked clarity.
Ms Marra welcomed the faculty’s response.
“This response from the legal experts puts beyond doubt the need for new laws on human trafficking in Scotland,” she said.
“I welcome the response of the Faculty, and their support for proposals like the new survivors service that will better identify victims and refer them to the support they need to recover..”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Human trafficking is a heinous crime and given its international and cross border nature a partnership approach is the most effective way to tackle it. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling the crime through partnership working with the Crown, police, the UK Government, and other delivery partners to make Scotland a hostile environment for traffickers, identify and provide better support for victims and potential victims of trafficking.
“The list of actions from the Summit in October 2012 provides the current focus for activity to combat trafficking. The Anti-trafficking Progress Group met for the second time on 18 July, with progress to date including the introduction of the statutory aggravation provisions in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and the launch of an awareness raising leaflet throughout the business community.
“Clearly this is an international and cross border crime and a partnership approach is the most effective way to tackle it. The UK Government intends to bring forward a Modern Slavery Bill and we are currently exploring the possibility, with them, of that Bill covering Scottish interests.
“We note Ms Marra’s consultation on a proposal for a Bill and will give careful consideration to any Bill brought forward on human trafficking.”