Leaders: Together we can tackle trafficking

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Julie Bull
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Julie Bull
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LAWS to crack down on human trafficking – to make it easier for police and the courts to prosecute the traffickers and help their victims – are to be put forward by the Scottish Government. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill says it will make Scotland a “hostile” place for the traffickers.

It may seem extraordinary that in 21st century Scotland legislation is needed to eradicate something that is arguably worse than the slavery that was abolished more than a century and a half ago. But it is a horrible fact that people are being duped into paying money for what they believe is a passage to a better life and end up brutalised, captive, and compelled, in many cases, to commit degrading sexual acts to earn money for their captors.

There are believed to be five people serving prison sentences in Scottish jails for trafficking and nearly 100 people were referred to aid agencies as potential victims during 2013, 22 of them under the age of 18. There will be more traffickers still free to ply their sickening trade and many more victims. It is utterly abhorrent to think that for them, Scotland has become a living hell.

The momentum for new legislation has come from Labour MSP Jenny Marra who has amassed a broad spectrum of support for it, from migrant aid organisations to the Law Society of Scotland.

Now the Scottish Government has adopted much of her proposal, a move which surely illustrates the consensual way of political working that the Scottish Parliament was designed to foster.

It is certainly a much more acceptable form of law-making than Mr MacAskill’s most recent attempts to shovel legislation through parliament dropping the requirement for there to be evidential corroboration in cases of sexual assault. At least in this case there is broad support from the legal system for anti-trafficking legislation.

As yet, not much detail has emerged. The principles seem sound though there will be difficult decisions to be made such as the extent to which trafficking victims, if they have been forced to commit crimes, should be exempted from prosecution. A blanket exemption, for example, could enable shoplifting gangs to claim they were only doing it because they had been trafficked and this was their only way of repaying debts owed, a claim that could be hard to disprove. Even the traffickers themselves could claim to be doing what they are under severe coercive threat.

But where there is a political will, there should be a legal way. Scotland should be able to ensure that vulnerable people, from whatever corner of the globe, are at minimal risk of exploitation here and their exploiters at maximum risk of long prison sentences.

All credit to Mr MacAskill for listening and extending the hand of action across the political divide. What a pity he didn’t take the same approach to corroboration.

Leith trams’ time may come one day

JOY that trams might soon be carrying fare-paying passengers between Edinburgh city centre and the airport may not as yet be unconfined, so news that councillors are thinking about reviving the abandoned segment between the centre and Leith is unlikely to cause street partying the length of Leith Walk.

But no need for opponents of any such thing, and we suspect there may be more than a few of those, to rush to the barricades just yet.

Those, especially traders, who endured months of disruption and losses caused by the abortive route preparation work might be horrified at the thought of another round of tram trauma on the way.

Actually, the council reckons that rather than see all that work go to waste, what has been done should be preserved in such a condition that if in future there is a demand for the Leith section to be built, it could be done with a minimum of fuss and expense.

It is not inconceivable. Trams elsewhere in Britain, such as Manchester, caused uproar during the first phase of construction but became such a part of transport infrastructure that more lines have been added. If Edinburgh’s truncated tramline proves to be busy and profitable, extending it might also become a popular cause.

If it does, then the council will have to prove beyond all shadow of doubt that it has learned the lessons of the first-phase fiascos and that the costings and construction timetable for any extension are iron-clad.

All that is, only possibly, in the future. In the meantime, it makes sense to allow that it could happen and to safeguard the route and the work already done.