Trafficking legislation champion joins Tumbling Lassie initiative

04 Sep

A leading voice behind anti-human trafficking legislation for Scotland has hailed a double initiative by a group of advocates.

Jenny Marra, MSP, is supporting two "Tumbling Lassie" events to examine the law on slavery in Scotland and to raise funds for charities which help victims of exploitation at home and abroad.

The MSP for North East Scotland and Scottish Labour spokesperson for Equality has agreed to be a speaker at the Tumbling Lassie Seminar – with Professor John Cairns, a renowned expert, and the celebrated historian Professor Sir Tom Devine.

"Raising awareness of human trafficking is a critical challenge as we pass the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill into law," said Ms Marra.

"It is an excellent idea to have a critical study of our legal past and a Ball to raise some much-needed funds for groups that do invaluable work with victims."

In a case in 1687 in the Court of Session,Reid v Scot of Harden and his Lady, a travelling showman demanded damages from a couple who had given refuge to the "tumbling lassie", a girl forced by the showman to work as a performing gymnast. He produced a written contract to show he had "bought" the girl from her mother and that she belonged to him.

However, the judges dismissed the claim. A report of the case stated: "But we have no slaves in Scotland, and mothers cannot sell their bairns."

Alan McLean, QC, came across the little-known case by chance, and after discussing it with fellow advocates, the Tumbling Lassie Committee was formed and the idea evolved of honouring the memory of the girl through a Ball and associated Seminar.

Also on the committee are: Patricia Comiskey, Maryam Labaki, Eric Robertson, Janys Scott, QC, and Iain Mitchell, QC.

Maryam Labaki said: "We are fortunate enough to live in a society that values justice and the protection of the law. There are many others who are denied that basic human right. We want to raise awareness and - by staging these charitable events - enable others to give practical help to those in dire need of it."

Professor Sir Tom Devine stated: "As soon as I heard about the Tumbling Lassie case, I was intrigued and couldn't wait to learn more and become involved in the seminar. I will give a short presentation on the latest research findings on Scotland and slavery which will be featured in detail in my edited book,Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past, to be published in late October."

Jenny Marra has been instrumental in starting the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill on its journey through the Scottish Parliament. In 2013, she proposed a Member's Bill and responses to her consultation confirmed strong support for legislation, and the Scottish Government put forward the current Bill in 2014.

"The United Nations estimates that there are more people in slavery in the world today than there were when slavery was legal," she said.

"Frightening similarities in the Tumbling Lassie case and present day human trafficking cases transcend the centuries – exploitation of children, coercion, control and the complicity of families.

"The Seminar will be a unique opportunity to familiarise and appreciate Scottish jurisprudence in this important area. I am looking forward to it and thank the Tumbling Lassie Committee for the idea to mark the passage of new trafficking law with a critical study of our legal past.

"And the fundraising Ball is an excellent idea to highlight the challenge of human trafficking in our communities. Scottish lawyers, police, social work, our courts and our NHS must fully engage with the issue of trafficking if we are to make our communities unwelcome places for this heinous and ubiquitous crime."

The half-day Tumbling Lassie Seminar examining the past, present and future of the law on slavery and people trafficking in Scotland is on the morning of Saturday, 10 October, in the Faculty of Advocates' Mackenzie Building, Old Assembly Close, High Street, Edinburgh.

Professor John Cairns of Edinburgh University is an internationally-recognised authority on slavery and the law in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Tumbling Lassie Ball that evening is being staged at the Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh, with proceeds going to TARA, which works with victims of human trafficking in Scotland, and the International Justice Mission, which helps local lawyers in the developing world to rescue people from slavery.

For ticket and sponsorship details, email or visit