Lawyers in cross-border call for sex purchase law rethink



The lack of charges brought under Northern Ireland’s year-old sex purchase law should prompt a rethink of similarly-conceived provisions of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill before it is approved by the Oireachtas, lawyers on both sides of the border have argued.

Data released to The Times under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request reveals nobody has been prosecuted for purchasing sex since the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 was implemented.

Six men arrested for purchasing sex were either released, cautioned or discharged under a discretionary disposal.

One campaign organisation, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), claimed the figures show that “in the north they don’t have the resources to charge people” with the offence.

The Government intends to create a similar offence in the State through the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill.

However, some lawyers are sceptical that the legislation will prove any more effective in Ireland than in Northern Ireland.

Wendy Lyon
Wendy Lyon

Dublin solicitor Wendy Lyon, who specialises in sexual, reproductive and maternity rights, told Irish Legal News: “The Minister for Justice should clarify how she expects the law will be enforced, given that the Gardaí operate under many of the same limitations as the PSNI.

“This simply underscores the futility of trying to address a social and economic issue through criminal justice measures - if the government are really concerned about the extent of prostitution in Ireland, they need to tackle the root causes like poverty, discrimination, and restrictions on migrant labour.”

Ciarán Moynagh
Ciarán Moynagh

Belfast solicitor advocate Ciarán Moynagh, who is currently involved in a legal challenge to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 on human rights grounds, said the law was “not necessary in the first place”.

Mr Moynagh told Irish Legal News that the figures could prove “that the purchase of sexual services is not a large industry in Northern Ireland, as some politicians would have you believe”.

He added: “It is clear the Irish Government needs to pause and take stock of the lack of enforcement by our police service, as well as carefully consider the expert evidence such as the recent report from Amnesty International calling for the decriminalisation of sex work and, finally, closely follow the Judicial Review that we have launched in the High Court of Northern Ireland that will highlight further the flaws in this legislation, most importantly that it is not compliant with human rights.”

The judicial review is listed for leave hearing on 23 September 2016.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality told Irish Legal News: “The Tánaiste and Minister is fully committed to all of the provisions in this Bill including those which target the exploitation associated with prostitution.

“It is fully expected that this Bill will be the subject of considerable debate during its passage through Dáil Éireann as it was in Seanad Éireann where the Bill had the broad support of parties across the House.”