HOLYROOD must pass its own laws to tackle human trafficking because UK-wide initiatives “completely ignore” Scotland, MSPs have been told.
Police chiefs have also admitted they could do more to target gangmasters, following a warning that Scotland’s poor conviction rate means it is seen as a “soft touch”.
Recent figures show there has been just one conviction for human trafficking in Scotland, compared with 150 in England and Wales.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for separate laws in Scotland, a move backed by Jim Laird, Scottish trafficking services team leader with the support group Migrant Help, as he appeared before Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee yesterday.
He said: “We need a separate piece of Scottish legislation that brings it all together and makes it easier for everyone – including the Crown Office – to understand, so that we can get more prosecutions.”
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill has previously been non-committal about the prospect of separate Scottish legislation, but Scotland’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, backs the idea.
Mr Laird added: “There are issues. We’ve got the Westminster government with responsibilities and we’ve got some devolved responsibilities here.
“The way that things work out at present, it’s only the UK meetings that take place to look at quite serious issues in regard to trafficking and they completely ignore Scotland and Northern Ireland as well – and Wales to a lesser extent.
“There’s nothing which is done at UK level which takes account of the position in Scotland and we really need a Scottish Government-led approach to this.”
Last October, Stephen Craig, 34, was jailed for three years and four months for arranging travel, accommodation and advertising for 14 women.
His co-accused, Sarah Beukan, 22, was jailed for a year and a half.
Mr Laird indicated that there was confusion between police and prosecutors over the interpretation of the existing laws on human trafficking.
“I’ve been involved in a couple of cases where it was clear to me that they were trafficking cases and the police were absolutely adamant – as far as their understanding of the legislation goes – that they were trafficking cases,” he said.
“Yet the decision has been taken not to go for trafficking.”
Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Meldrum, director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, admitted that the police “can do more” to tackle the issue, with just one conviction in Scotland in recent years.
Quarterly summits were already being held, with a “whole series of actions” aimed at improving police procedures in this area, he said.