Stormont approves bill to strengthen law on sexual offences and trafficking
Wide-ranging legislating updating the law on sexual offending in Northern Ireland has completed its final stage in the Assembly.
The Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill creates several new offences, including non-fatal strangulation, up-skirting and down-blousing, cyber-flashing, and masquerading as a child online, and implements certain elements of the Gillen report on serious sexual offence cases.
The bill was delayed for several months by a row between the parties before being introduced in a pared-back form last summer, though many of the elements which had been left out, such as the abolition of the so-called “rough sex” defence, were reintroduced during the legislative process and form part of the final bill.
The full list of provisions that were contained in the bill at introduction is as follows:
- Provisions arising from the Gillen review, which include;
- exclusion of public from all serious sexual offence hearings;
- anonymity for defendants pre-charge;
- anonymity of complainants to continue after death; and
- an increase in the penalty for breach of anonymity;
- Provisions arising from the outcome of a review of the law on child sexual exploitation and sexual offences against children to;
- replace legislative references to ‘child prostitution’ and ‘child pornography’;
- include live streamed images in the definition of exploitation for sexual purposes; and
- create a new offence of adults masquerading as children online.
- Provisions to create a new offence of up skirting and down blousing;
- Adjustments to include the offence of abduction of children in care to Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) arrangements:
- Adjustments to dis-apply time limits for complaints under Violent Offences Prevention Order (VOPO) arrangements; and
- Amendments to modern slavery provisions in the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Act to extend support to victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and to remove the statutory requirement to produce an annual Modern Slavery Strategy.
The list of new provisions that have been added to the bill is as follows:
- An extension of the provisions arising from the Gillen review relating to exclusion of public from all serious sexual offence hearings to include the Court of Appeal;
- An increase to the scope of the existing offences relating to abuse of position of trust of a child to include faith and sports settings;
- Extension of the scope of the existing offence of disclosure of private sexual photographs and films to bring threats to disclose within scope;
- Abolition of the so called ‘rough sex’ defence;
- The creation of a new offence of non-fatal strangulation; and
- The creation of a new offence of cyber-flashing.
Justice minister Naomi Long said: “The delivery of this new legislation offers greater protections to vulnerable people in our communities and will make a significant difference to those who suffer abuse and exploitation.
“Since my appointment as justice minister, I have focused on ensuring that our laws offer the best protection they can to the most vulnerable in our society.
“This legislation, in conjunction with the significant new safeguards that I have already brought forward in this mandate in the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act 2021 and in the Protection from Stalking Bill, represents a coherent approach to address important gaps in our current legislation and breaks new ground in several critical areas.
“Importantly, each of the bills, both individually and collectively contribute to the Executive’s wider approach of protecting women and girls, recognising that, unfortunately, most victims of these types of crimes tend to be female.”