Justice Committee heeds Human Trafficking Bill concerns

28 Apr

Concerns expressed by the Faculty and others have been recognised by the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee in its Stage 1 Report on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill.

The Committee supported the general principles of the Bill in strengthening the criminal law against human trafficking and exploitation, and ensuring that victims have access to appropriate support immediately.

However, it made a number of recommendations aimed at improving aspects of the provisions.

One recommendation is that the Scottish Government should look again at the Bill's definition of a single offence of human trafficking "to establish whether it can be better aligned to international definitions..."

Several witnesses, including James Wolffe, QC, Dean of Faculty, who gave evidence to the Committee called for a statutory defence for a person who commits an offence as a consequence of their victim status, in addition to the planned duty on the Lord Advocate to publish guidelines on prosecuting victims.

"The Committee considers that the Lord Advocate's argument in favour of prosecutorial guidelines was persuasive and indeed that the view of the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates was also persuasive," the Report stated.

"Given that the Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that prosecutorial guidelines and a statutory defence are not mutually exclusive, the Committee asks the Cabinet Secretary to consider the position further."

In relation to support for victims, the Committee sought clarification from the Scottish Government whether access to support and assistance under section 8 of the Bill was dependent on entry to the National Referral Mechanism.

It added: "The Committee welcomes the Cabinet Secretary's offer to examine the Faculty of Advocates' interpretation of section 8 of the Bill and seeks an update prior to Stage 2 on whether the Scottish Government considers that an amendment is necessary."

Commenting on the Report, Mr Wolffe said: "I am pleased that the Committee has invited the Government to consider further a number of issues which the Faculty and others have raised. This is a good example of the constructive and proactive role which the Faculty and other members of the legal profession take, co-operating with others to improve Scotland's laws."

The Report can be seen at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_JusticeCommittee/Reports/juR-15-09w.pdf

The Faculty's written evidence to the Committee is at http://www.advocates.org.uk/downloads/news/responses/20150227_human.pdf