Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New law to focus on kerb crawlers in red light crackdown

By Angus Macleod, Scottish Political Editor
The Times
November 2, 2005

POLICE forces in Scotland are to be given new powers to press charges against men who pay for sex from prostitutes.

Men and women will be subject to a new criminal offence of buying or selling sex and thus causing alarm and nuisance in communities, ending the present law where only prostitutes are criminalised.

The Scottish Executive also announced yesterday that the offence of soliciting, which punishes prostitutes for attempting to sell sex, is to be scrapped. The new offence covering both sexes will carry harsher penalties, with fines of up to £500. At present, in Scotland, women convicted of soliciting are fined £75 for a first offence.

The plans are contained in the Executive’s response to the findings of a report published last December by the Expert Group on Prostitution.

The provisions for the new offence will feature in the Sentencing Bill planned for next year and should become law by early 2007.

Hugh Henry, Scotland’s Deputy Justice Minister, said that ministers considered street prostitution to be a form of violence against women. He said: “For too long the law in Scotland has been focused on women soliciting and not on men purchasing sex. There is a need to redress this balance and that’s what we are doing with this new approach.”

The expert working group was set up in 2003 by the Executive after MSPs rejected a bid by Margo Macdonald, an independent MSP, to legislate for formal prostitution tolerance zones. Councils in Scotland, however, will be able to set “managed areas” where street prostitute are held not to constitute a nuisance. Such zones would have to have health, welfare and counselling services available to prostitutes.

At present, prostitution itself is not an offence but the 1982 Civic Government (Scotland) Act criminalises soliciting in a public place for the purpose of prostitution.

Ministers at Holyrood maintained the purpose of the plans unveiled yesterday was not to make prostitution illegal.

The new offence will target men who specifically cause a nuisance through their involvement in prostitution, whether they are on foot or in a car. Women who cause alarm by selling sex would also be committing an offence. The offence will be based on an objective assessment of whether offence would be caused to a reasonable person if they witnessed the behaviour. Complaints from the public would no longer be needed to bring a case to court.