Malcolm calls for strong action on people trafficking
Question to the Lord Advocate on People Traficking Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take to ensure that people traffickers are prosecuted and that their victims are protected and supported. (S3O-11583)

The Lord Advocate (Elish Angiolini):
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to disrupting human trafficking through the investigation and prosecution of these offences, including confiscation of assets and profits. As I explained to the Equal Opportunities Committee earlier this week, only a small number of offences of human trafficking have been reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service by the police. Of those reported, two cases were unable to proceed due to a lack of sufficient admissible evidence, and the other cases are currently under consideration.

There have been a number of successful prosecutions for criminal offences against a background of people trafficking, such as identity offences, trading in prostitution, managing an immoral house, knowingly permitting premises to be used as a brothel and knowingly living on the earnings of prostitution.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is working with the Scottish Government and other relevant agencies to ensure that the victims of human trafficking are identified as such at an early stage and are provided with the appropriate support and protection at the beginning of the investigative process.

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I take this opportunity to thank the Lord Advocate for all the superb work that she has done over the past few years and to say how sorry we are that she is leaving her post.

Will the Lord Advocate confirm that, in the new trafficking guidance, which I believe is to be issued soon, there will be a presumption against prosecuting the victims of trafficking? Can she say why there have been several successful prosecutions of people trafficking in England but none in Scotland? Is there anything that the prosecution service or other public services could do to help to rectify that situation?

The Lord Advocate (Elish Angiolini):
I thank Mr Chisholm for his kind remarks. However, I am not going immediately and I hope to be around for some months yet.

On the identification and support of victims, the guidance that we will issue to prosecutors this week will contain a presumption against prosecution where there are credible factors and criteria identifying an individual as a victim of trafficking in the context of these offences. That will be an important part of ensuring that we encourage victims of trafficking to come forward and co-operate with the authorities. As I mentioned on Tuesday, many of the victims have grave suspicion of authorities and might not come from a culture in which co-operation with the police and other authorities is something that they would do. Therefore, we have to overcome barriers that, although they also exist with some victims in other contexts, are considerable in this context. The issue of support is also important.

On the number of prosecutions, only four reports have been made to prosecutors, and we can do no more than consider the cases that come to us. Certainly, there is evidence that an organised crime element is involved in trafficking in Scotland. I think that 3 per cent of those who were identified as being part of a hierarchy of organised crime are involved in human trafficking. There is certainly no complacency, but the reality is that the vast bulk of trafficking activity takes place south of the border, which is why significantly more prosecutions occur down south.

Nonetheless, along with the police and the other relevant agencies, we are alert to the activity that is taking place. The guidance to prosecutors will ensure that they are alert to the need to recognise victims of trafficking not only in the context of trafficking or prosecution but also in the context of crimes such as domestic abuse or crimes that the victims themselves might have committed. Prosecutors should be aware of the criteria and the indicators that people with whom they deal might be victims of trafficking.
October 7th 2010, (Column 29436-8)