Human trafficking: Offenders face life imprisonment
People who carry out human trafficking in Scotland could face life imprisonment under new legislation to tackle the problem.
The Scottish government has published details of a new bill aimed at protecting the victims and punishing the perpetrators of trafficking.
In 2013 there were 55 victims identified in Scotland.
The new law will introduce a single human trafficking offence and increase the maximum penalty for offenders.
Home Office research has suggested there could be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery, forced labour and human trafficking in the UK.
The Scottish government announced earlier this year that it was bringing forward a new bill to combat trafficking and exploitation.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill will mean that for the first time in Scotland there will be legislation focusing specifically on human trafficking and exploitation through slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.
If passed, the new bill will also seek to enhance the rights of victims of trafficking, with access to immediate help and support based on their individual needs.
It will give prosecutors the discretion not to punish victims forced to commit crime against their will – including those trafficked into the country and then forced into cannabis factories.
Scottish Ministers will also be required to work with other bodies to publish and keep under review a Scottish Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the bill would put in place “robust measures” and assist law enforcement agencies in tackling trafficking effectively.
He said: “We are now sending out a very clear signal to those that may be involved in this type of crime that we are taking it extremely seriously and if you are found guilty of this type of abhorrent crime that you could face a life imprisonment sentence.
“What we need to do is make sure that we’ve got measures in place in order to identify individuals who may be subject to human trafficking and exploitation, so that’s not just the police force that’s about businesses and public agencies being much more aware of this issue.”
The Scottish government said some industries, including fishing and agriculture, could be vulnerable to a small minority of criminal employers who exploit or are trafficking workers.
David Dickens, chief executive of the Fishermen’s Mission, said: “As a charity dedicated to providing help and support to fishermen and their families in need, the Fishermen’s Mission welcomes any move that seeks to reduce the potential for trafficking or exploitation of fishermen.
“We see and deal with the results of poor practices and are pleased to see that the issues are being addressed in Scotland.”
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “We particularly welcome the enhanced focus on the needs of victims and the additional support the bill presents.
“The non-criminalisation of suspected victims of human trafficking is an area where clearly defined obligations and direction is welcomed and would assist greatly in providing the clarity and confidence required to effectively deal with those circumstances where offending has occurred as a result of their exploitation.”
The legislation builds on work done by Labour MSP Jenny Marra, who had proposed her own bill.