CRIMINALS involved in human trafficking could face life imprisonment under a new law introduced by the Scottish Government, justice secretary Michael Matheson has warned.
The minister said there could be as many as 1,000 cases of such crimes in Scotland, as he set out the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill.
It aims to tackle what the government’s top law officers have called a form of “modern day slavery”.
The bill will for the first time create a specific offence of human trafficking, and increase the maximum penalty for those convicted of the crime to life imprisonment.
Mr Matheson’s predecessor, Kenny MacAskill, announced earlier this year that the legislation would be introduced to build on work by Labour MSP Jenny Marra, who had proposed her own bill.
Ms Marra said the government bill was a “good platform” to deal with the problem, after the National Crime Agency said it had identified 55 potential victims of human trafficking in Scotland last year.
Some 30 per cent experienced sexual exploitation, while 14 per cent suffered labour exploitation and 9 per cent criminal exploitation.
The proposed law would give adult victims of trafficking the same access to support and help as children and provide guidance to prosecutors dealing with cases where such people have been forced into committing crimes.
Mr Matheson said: “We suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are estimates from the Home Office that there could be something between 10,000 and 13,000 people within the UK who are the subject of human trafficking and exploitation, and if we take Scotland’s pro rata share of that, that would indicate that there could be around 1,000 cases.”
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
He added: “On average just now you could face up to 14 years imprisonment, so we’re now sending out a very clear signal to those who may be involved in this type of crime that we are taking it extremely seriously.”
The proposed legislation also provides for a Scottish anti-trafficking and exploitation strategy aimed at increasing public awareness, providing training for front-line staff and engaging with businesses to help spot the signs of potential trafficking and exploitation.
Scotland’s solicitor-general, Lesley Thomson, QC, said the prosecution of those involved in trafficking was a “priority” for the criminal justice system.
Ms Thomson said the legislative package strengthened Scotland’s anti-trafficking laws and made the country a “hostile place” for criminal gangs involved in the crime.
She said: “The investigation and prosecution of those responsible for this modern day slavery is a priority for the Scottish prosecution service, working with criminal justice partners across the UK.
“In particular, the creation of a single offence of human trafficking for all types of exploitation for both adults and children clarifies and strengthens the law against traffickers.”
Police welcomed the plan to change the law.
Police Scotland assistant chief constable Malcolm Graham said: “The measures proposed, together with the duty to develop an anti-human trafficking strategy, will ensure that victims are offered far better protection and make Scotland a truly hostile environment for traffickers.”
Labour MSP Ms Marra said: “The crucial thing about today’s bill is that it gives victims the legal right to get the protection they need.
“Life sentences for traffickers and the Lord Advocate’s own personal duty to protect victims are all very welcome announcements today.
“Today’s bill, as well as putting stronger laws in place, will help to raise public awareness of human trafficking.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS