Scotland's planned adoption of England's laws on forced marriage have been described as "dangerous" and "retrograde" by a leading expert.

The warning comes as the ­Scottish Government draws up plans to amend its forced marriages legislation introduced in 2011, following a recent European ruling.

A new report has shown women's support agencies in ­Scotland have experienced a significant increase in referrals, and follows the rare testimony of a victim in yesterday's Sunday Herald.

Lawyer John Fotheringham, who was one of the leading ­proponents of the 2011 legislation, said: "This will stop the victims of forced marriage seeking a nullity because it would criminalise the family. We are failing the victims if we go down this route and it could be dangerous for them.

"Under the current law, the ­criminality lies in breaching an order. The order itself can be drawn very flexibly.

Mr Fotheringham, an associate with bto solicitors, said: "This [change] is a retrograde step. The point of the Scottish position is that a young person will be dissuaded from seeking an order if the order itself will criminalise members of her family."

Scottish courts currently issue protection orders specifically tailored to a victim's needs, for example by ensuring they are taken to a place of safety or by helping those in danger of being taken abroad for marriage.

Breaching one is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine, a two-year prison sentence or both.

Several orders have been granted and other victims have been protected by agencies because cases were highlighted before the marriage took place.

Officials say the law needs to be changed because of the Istanbul convention, recently passed by the Council of Europe.

Mr Fotheringham added: "There is an argument that the whole of the UK is bound by the Istanbul convention, but why ask Westminster to legislate for us?

"Why not look at the legislation we have and that took two years of hard work to get onto the ­statute books.

"The point surely is to minimise the number of forced marriages which take place. The most ­difficult feature of the system is its underreporting by potential victims and their friends. The proposed change in the law might well exacerbate that problem.

"Another very disappointing factor is that there has been no consultation in Scotland amongst stakeholders such as the Law ­Society of Scotland and Shakti, the BME woman's aid organisation in Edinburgh, both of which organisations contributed substantially to the 2011 legislation."

The UK's Forced Marriage Unit revealed there were 1468 cases in the UK last year of young people asking for help relating to a forced marriage - including 59 Scots. An estimated 20% were under 18.

A UK consultation on the change took place last year but experts say neither the Law Society of Scotland nor the lead agencies in Scotland were involved.

Rajni Pandher, a development worker at the Hermat Gryffe specialist support agency in Glasgow, said of the law change: "It means no-one will come forward in the first instance. It would only work in cases of third-party reporting, because for other women and young people, the fear of their parents being instantly criminalised would be too much." She criticised the lack of consultation.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Following a supportive UK-wide consultation, we are proposing that the law be changed so that the current civil Forced Marriage Protection Orders, which will continue to exist, will sit alongside a new criminal offence. This means victims could choose to take the civil route, as they now can, or to go to the police."