MSP: Review convictions of slaves forced into crime

Ms Marra wants the EU's Palermo Protocol adopted. Picture: Contributed
Ms Marra wants the EU's Palermo Protocol adopted. Picture: Contributed
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PEOPLE who have been jailed after being trafficked to Scotland as slaves and forced to commit crimes should have their cases reviewed, an MSP has said.

Jenny Marra is urging the Scottish Government to apply retrospectively a new EU directive, saying authorities should not “prosecute or impose penalties on victims of trafficking”.

She hopes to raise the issue at First Minister’s Questions when the Scottish Parliament returns from the Easter break.

Ms Marra and Graham O’Neill, who managed the Baroness Helena Kennedy inquiry into human trafficking, have raised concerns about the criminalising of victims. This includes women brought to Scotland for prostitution, Asian teenagers made to work in cannabis factories and people forced into other forms of organised crime.

As revealed in The Scotsman, Police Scotland has promised 
to treat trafficked people as victims rather than criminals in future.

That pledge, by Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, preceded Saturday’s EU directive, which said: “Member States shall... take the necessary measures to ensure that competent national authorities are entitled not to prosecute or impose penalties on victims of trafficking in human beings for their involvement in criminal activities...”

Ms Marra, a Labour member of the justice committee, said: “I want a review of the convictions because the directive makes it against the law to convict people who are victims of trafficking. I think this should be applied retrospectively.”

She added: “If it’s wrong to have people in jails because of crimes they have been forced to commit as Scottish slaves, which is what we believe has happened, then this directive gives us a really good opportunity.”

It is not clear exactly how many victims have been jailed.

The Scottish Government has taken steps to try and tackle people smuggling, including proposing a new human trafficking “aggravation” to be attached to other criminal charges, such as assault or drugs, which would lead to stronger sentences.

However, Ms Marra wants to see more action, including a clearer definition of trafficking defined in law. In particular, she would like to see the adoption of the Palermo Protocol, which defines trafficking as “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons”, by means including “threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits”.

“I want to see it [the Palermo Protocol] embedded in Scots law,” she said. “The government needs to change the law. I’ve been calling for that for a while.”

The Scottish Government believes reviewing convictions should be a matter for the courts. A spokeswoman said: “This government is clear that trafficking has no place in Scotland and we are working hard to support victims and tackle this abhorrent crime.

“We are already strengthening legislation to provide a statutory aggravation so courts can take into account the fact that a separate offence being prosecuted took place in the context of human trafficking.

“We are also working with the Crown Office to consider whether any loopholes need closed.”

Mr Graham, head of major crime and public protection, said: “Police Scotland has a dedicated national human trafficking unit which is focused on assisting victims and targeting those who perpetrated this criminal activity.

“The new EU directive and the calls for more training are consistent with the approach Police Scotland is taking in relation to human trafficking.”