POLICE Scotland is to review thousands of warnings handed out to sex workers in a bid to ensure prostitutes are not being unfairly criminalised.

Warnings for individuals who sell sex will also be removed from the internal police system after two years as part of a new policy designed to reduce the risk of discrimination.

Nadine Stott, the co-chair of Scot-Pep, a group that campaigns for the rights of sex workers, said: “We welcome these changes, but Police Scotland should also stop enforcing prostitution laws.”

Under the existing system, details of disposals such as convictions and warnings are recorded on the police criminal history system (CHS).

A range of warnings are “weeded” - removed from the CHS - after two years, but there is a higher hurdle for sex workers to overcome.

A single warning for a prostitute will be erased from the system after 24 months, but two or more sanctions for the same individual triggers the so-called “40-20” rule.

This means that a person has to be 40 years old or over, and the information would have had to be on record for at least 20 years, before a weed is carried out.

In practice, a 19-year-old sex worker who had received two warnings would have to wait until she was 40 before the details were removed from the CHS.

According to a recent meeting of the force’s Strategic Leadership Board, Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson advised colleagues that the recording, weeding and retention policy could “better reflect the victim-focused commitment of the organisation”.

He proposed that the two-year rule should automatically apply and said existing warnings should be reviewed. It is understood there are over 3,000 in the system.

The minute stated: “He advised that the proposal is consistent with the current national disposal weeding policy, complies with human rights considerations and reduces the risk of discrimination and stigmatisation.”

However, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said the force should go even further: “I am glad Police Scotland are doing away with this. However, I would argue that they should not be receiving any kind of warning at all. People in prostitution are there because they have no other options. If they end up with a record then finding other options becomes increasingly difficult.

“While many have chaotic lifestyles due to the abuse they face on a daily basis, criminalising them is not the answer. We need to have support services in place in every part of Scotland so that the police can refer them onto a place where they will get help and support.”

Detective Superintendent Stuart Houston said: "We are reviewing our retention of prostitution warnings to ensure that people are not being unfairly criminalised. A significant number of people involved in prostitution are forced or coerced and potentially exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation.

“Following review, all prostitution warnings will automatically be removed from our CHS after two years. Existing warnings will also be reviewed and removed, if it is over two years since they were recorded. Our focus is on the welfare of those involved in prostitution and identifying the criminals who use threats and intimidation to control and exploit people.

"Support, health and wellbeing visits are a multi-agency response to off-street prostitution focusing on welfare and mitigating further risk rather than enforcement. We are committed to working with partners to reduce the risk of discrimination and stigmatisation suffered by individuals involved in prostitution."

The move comes nearly five years after Police Scotland raids on saunas in Edinburgh effectively ended the regulated brothel system in the city.

Saunas were granted licenses by Edinburgh Council and worked closely with multiple agencies, but the raids led to the local authority calling time on the licensing system. The action is believed to have damaged police relations with sex workers.