UN convention against torture: our position statement

Account of progress in Scotland in giving effect to the UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in advance of a review of the UK by the UN Committee Against Torture in May 2019.

Human trafficking

“ Slavery was, in a very real sense, the first international human rights issue to come to the fore. It led to the adoption of the first human rights laws and to the creation of the first human rights non-governmental organization. And yet despite the efforts of the international community to combat this abhorrent practice, it is still widely prevalent in all its insidious forms, old and new.”

Kofi Annan

Complaints and prosecutions

11. Please provide updated information, disaggregated by the age, sex and ethnicity or nationality of the victims, on the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions and sentences imposed in cases of human trafficking since the consideration of the State party’s previous periodic report (May 2013).

Since May 2013, proceedings have been raised in respect of 92 human trafficking charges in Scotland. This is not the same as the number of prosecutions, as a prosecution may encompass a number of charges. Five convictions have led to imprisonment and proceedings in respect of 59 charges are ongoing.

On 15 March 2018 two men were sentenced to 10 years’ and seven years’ imprisonment respectively. Amongst other charges, both were convicted of a contravention of section 4(1) of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour). This prosecution, conducted by the national lead prosecutor for human trafficking, resulted in the first convictions under the 2015 Act since it came into force.

Both men were also made subject to Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders. Again, these are the first orders of their kind to be imposed in Scotland since they came into force on 30 June 2017. The terms of the order mean that, for five years after the men are released from prison, both will be restricted in who they can employ and the property they can use, and they must notify police of any plans to travel outside Scotland. They are also restricted in the number of communications devices they may own.

Combating trafficking and supporting victims

12. Please also provide information on:

(a) Any new legislation or measures that have been adopted to prevent, combat and criminalize trafficking in persons, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015;

(b) The measures adopted to ensure that victims of human trafficking have access to effective remedies and reparation. Please comment on reports pointing out shortcomings in the Modern Slavery Act, such as a lack of detail in provisions to identify and provide support to victims, gaps in criminal legislation and weaknesses in the powers of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the resources available to him;

(c) The signature of agreements with countries concerned to prevent and combat human trafficking.


The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015[66] consolidates and strengthens criminal law against human trafficking and exploitation. The offences in the Act now carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It also introduces trafficking and exploitation prevention and risk orders.

The Act takes forward improved protection for victims, through the Lord Advocate’s instructions on the presumption against the prosecution of victims of trafficking and exploitation in certain circumstances, and by placing a duty on the Scottish Ministers to provide support and assistance for adult victims of human trafficking.

Most provisions of the Act are now in force, with work under way to implement those that remain outstanding.


The 2015 Act makes it more straightforward for Scotland’s law enforcement agencies to take action but trafficking is a complex crime, with control and coercion often exerted by traffickers over victims in subtle and hidden ways. Victims can be highly traumatised and can take time to fully describe what has happened to them and who was involved. These factors can combine to make building a case a time-consuming process. It is also important to remember that:

  • for each proceeding there could be multiple charges and multiple victims;
  • there may be cases where warrants are outstanding for accused persons;
  • there may be cases that have been deserted with a view to re-raise at a later date;
  • there may be cases that are currently ongoing or not been prosecuted yet; and
  • there will be situations where accused have been reported to COPFS for human trafficking offences but prosecuted for offences other than human trafficking offences.

Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy

The 2015 Act requires the development of a Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy. This was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 30 May 2017 and will be reviewed every three years.[67] It was produced by working closely with stakeholders, including victims of trafficking and exploitation, and covers four elements:

  • identifying victims and supporting them to safety and recovery;
  • identifying perpetrators and disrupting their activity;
  • addressing the wider factors that foster trafficking and exploitation; and
  • specific actions for child victims of trafficking.

Implementation groups have been established for each of the four elements and meet on a quarterly basis to drive forward action towards the goals of the Strategy.

Actions contained within the Strategy include the development of a public awareness-raising campaign of the issue of human trafficking; raising awareness with those who may encounter potential victims in the course of their work; developing clear processes and pathways for victims to access support; making full use of the powers available to disrupt the activities of perpetrators; and supporting UK-wide activity resulting from the Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) duty under the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015.

A public awareness-raising campaign was launched by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on 29 August 2017.[68] Public surveys undertaken in Spring 2018 show increased awareness of human trafficking, and also that more people say they would report concerns about trafficking to the police.[69]

A corporate group has been established, drawing together representatives from key businesses in Scotland who have a role to play in tackling trafficking. The group is looking into the provision of guidance and training to businesses on human trafficking; raising awareness and sharing best practice; and improving the quality of Slavery and Human Trafficking Statements.

On 14 June 2018 the first annual progress report on implementation of the Strategy was published.[70]

Support for adult and child victims

On 1 April 2018 changes came into force to increase, from 45 to 90 days, the statutory minimum period for which adult victims of human trafficking and exploitation recovered in Scotland would be provided with support, and for victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. This is double the previous minimum period and is a longer statutory support period than anywhere else in the UK.

To reflect this commitment, as well as the increase in victims identified through the National Referral Mechanism, the Scottish Government has increased funding to two organisations that support trafficking victims in Scotland: Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) and Migrant Help, and has established a three-year funding agreement to provide greater stability. Over £3 million has been committed over a three-year period. In addition, the Scottish Government has increased funding for psychological trauma support for adult trafficking victims through The Anchor – a 65% increase to £115,000 for 2018-19.

Children are supported through the child protection system and eligible children are given the additional support of an independent child trafficking guardian. Section 4 of the Strategy makes clear that local Child Protection Committees should ensure that there are specific and appropriate arrangements on child trafficking and exploitation in place through guidance, protocols or procedures, which are known and complemented by relevant services.

In 2013, the Scottish Government published Inter-agency Guidance for Child Trafficking,[71] which provides information and guidance to all members of the children’s workforce so that professionals and others are able to identify child victims to ensure they can receive appropriate support and protection. The Scottish Government has already invested in an additional guardianship support service for unaccompanied child trafficking victims. However, where a child for whom no one in the UK holds parental rights or responsibilities has been, or is suspected of having been, trafficked, the Act makes provision for an independent child trafficking guardian to be appointed to provide additional assistance and support. A consultation with stakeholders is planned regarding the roles and responsibilities of this new guardianship service, which will work alongside existing statutory provision.

The 2015 Act also requires relevant authorities to presume that a victim of human trafficking is a child in circumstances where the age of a victim is uncertain but there are reasonable grounds to believe that the victim is a child (under 18 years of age). The victim is presumed to be a child for the purpose of receiving immediate age-appropriate support and services until their age is formally established. To reflect the change in legislation, the 2012 Age Assessment Guidance for social workers has been revised.[72] The Scottish Government is also seeking to bring forward guidance on the use of sections 22 and 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regarding provision of accommodation and support.

Under section 8 of the 2015 Act, the Lord Advocate’s instructions for prosecutors state that: if there is sufficient evidence that a child aged 17 or under has committed an offence, and there is credible and reliable information to support the fact that the child is a victim of human trafficking or exploitation, and the offending took place in the course of or as a consequence of being the victim of human trafficking or exploitation, then there is a strong presumption against prosecution of that child for that offence.

Implementation of those actions specific to children will be supported and overseen by the Child Trafficking Strategy Group. Action to tackle child trafficking cuts across existing Scottish Government strategies is referenced in the update of the National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (2016)[73] and the National Action Plan on Child Internet Safety in Scotland (2017).[74] These are all workstreams included within the current Child Protection Improvement Programme.

The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 obliges Police Scotland to direct victims of crime towards the Victims’ Code for Scotland,[75] which contains information about compensation and is available in a number of languages. In addition, victim support organisations routinely assist victims in understanding the support that may be available. In Scotland, the position of victims of trafficking in criminal proceedings and their access to legal aid is no different to that of other victims of crime with an interest in a criminal case. Access to legal aid on some human trafficking matters is not contingent on formal recognition of victim status. Beyond the provision of legal aid, assistance can be provided through grant-funding programmes.

The Scottish Government is committed to partnership working with the UK Government, police, prosecutors, support agencies and others to combat human trafficking and exploitation. In addition, the remit of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner covers the whole of the UK.



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