Statutory defence not to feature in Human Trafficking Bill
The Scottish Government has signalled its intention to omit a statutory defence from the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill.
Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, told MSPs during the Bill's Stage 1 debate that he believed guidelines or instructions issued by the Lord Advocate on the non-prosecution of victims would better meet the aims of the Bill and the needs of victims.
In evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee, several witnesses, including James Wolffe, QC, Dean of Faculty, had supported a statutory defence for a person who commits an offence as a consequence of their victim status.
The Committee said in its Stage 1 Report that the arguments for and against a statutory defence, in addition to prosecutorial guidelines, had both been persuasive, and it asked the Cabinet Secretary to consider the position further.
Christine Grahame, Convener of the Committee, said in the Stage 1 debate: "I think that it is fair to say that we were to some extent in a quandary as to which was the more convincing case. This is the trouble when we have arguments being put forward by the Dean of the Faculty on one hand and the Lord Advocate on the other—the last one who spoke has us believing them."
Mr Matheson said he felt a statutory defence would place a burden on accused persons to satisfy a court of their victim status. The Bill, he continued, would place a statutory duty on the Lord Advocate to prepare and publish guidelines on the non-prosecution of credible or confirmed victims of trafficking.
Margaret Mitchell, MSP, said she hoped that in spite of the Cabinet Secretary's comments, the Scottish Government would reconsider and bring forward statutory defence provision in Stage 2.