TOUGH new laws to crack down on human trafficking will make Scotland a “beacon to the world” in tackling the problem.
Under Scottish Government proposals, courts are to be handed beefed-up powers to punish offenders, while the status of victims will be enhanced.
Almost 100 trafficking cases were reported in Scotland last year, and the problem is growing.
The plans, adopted from a members’ bill lodged last year by Labour justice spokeswoman Jenny Marra, mean police and other agencies will have a legal responsibility to work with the Scottish Government to develop an anti-trafficking strategy.
Ms Marra said: “I am delighted the Scottish Government has accepted my proposals to combat human trafficking.
“Scotland will be a beacon to the world with these robust
anti-trafficking laws once they are passed.”
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: “We are determined to develop legislation that gives our police, prosecutors and other agencies the powers to make Scotland a hostile environment for human traffickers but also helps to identify and support the needs of victims.”
Last year, 99 people – 77 adults and 22 under-18s – were referred by agencies in Scotland as potential victims of trafficking, an increase of 3 per cent compared with 2012.
Ms Marra’s proposals were designed to define the crime of trafficking in Scotland for the first time, enshrining into Scottish law the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol, which aims to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking.
Her proposals were also designed to stop the criminalisation of victims by making it illegal to punish those who have been forced to commit crime as a result of their trafficking, although it is unclear if this will be in the final legislation.
The head of Scotland’s prosecution service, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, has already appointed a specialist prosecutor to deal with trafficking.
A spokeswoman for the service said the latest proposals would “greatly assist” prosecutors in ensuring offenders face justice. “Tragically, human trafficking is a big business, it has strong links to serious and organised crime and it is of great concern that it takes place in Scotland,” she said.
It is estimated there are only five people in prison in Scotland convicted of human trafficking.
Michael Clancy, director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The law in Scotland needs to be robust in dealing with those who commit such crime and in protecting those who are used and abused according to the whim of traffickers.”
Siobhan Reardon, of Amnesty Scotland, said: “By ensuring that the welfare of the victim is placed above all else and providing police, prosecutors and other agencies with the tools to detect and prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous crime, the Scottish Government is showing it is serious about making Scotland a no-go area for traffickers.
“We look forward to working with the government and the many anti-trafficking campaigners, including the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on human rights and Jenny Marra MSP, to see this intention become law.”