Human trafficking bill to be debated by MSPs

Human trafficking bill to be debated by MSPs

Members of the Scottish Parliament are set to debate the Scottish Government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill today.

Holyrood will debate the general principles of the legislation, which is intended to “consolidate and strengthen the existing criminal law against human trafficking and the offence relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and enhance the status of and support for victims”.

The proposed law would create a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time as well as increase the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.

The Bill also proposes that a duty be placed on the Lord Advocate to publish guidance setting out a presumption against prosecution in cases where “credible trafficked people” are believed to have been forced to commit a crime.

The general principles of the legislation have already been backed by Holyrood’s justice committee, which took evidence from a range of third sector and campaigning organisations.

The committee’s stage 1 report made a series of recommendations, including proposing further consideration to the creation of a statutory defence for a person who commits an offence as a consequence of their victim status.

Both the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Act 2015 contain a statutory defence.

A statutory defence was supported by a number of witnesses, including Victim Support Scotland, Amnesty International Scotland, and the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC).

The Lord Advocate had told the committee: “I think that if you put a statutory defence on the face of the Bill, it would lead to more injustices than if I, as Lord Advocate, were to issue instructions.”

He argued for “a more flexible approach, in which the Lord Advocate issues not guidance but instructions to our prosecutors and the police that will be far more productive and lead to fewer injustices than a rigid statutory defence in the Bill would”.

Justice secretary Michael Matheson confirmed to the committee that issuing the Lord Advocate’s instructions and placing a statutory defence in the Bill were not mutually exclusive and both could be explored further.

The committee also rejected proposals from churches and Christian organisations that the legislation should criminalise the purchase of sex.

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