Northern Ireland

Plans to change NI prostitution and trafficking laws

Sex workers in street
Image caption The bill would make it an offence to pay for sex

Proposed changes to the laws on prostitution and human trafficking in Northern Ireland are due to go out to public consultation later.

If passed into legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, proposed by the DUP's Lord Morrow, would make Northern Ireland the lead in the UK on human trafficking law.

The bill aims to enhance services for victims as well as making it an offence to pay for sexual services from a prostitute.

The consultation period ends on 18 October.

Buying or selling sex is legal across the UK, however, many activities related to prostitution, including kerb crawling, running a brothel and pimping, are all outlawed.

Lord Morrow said it was illegal to pay for sex in Northern Ireland from someone who has been coerced.

"The majority of rescued victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland are those brought here for sexual exploitation and I believe that we can do better," he said.

"For instance, in Sweden, there's a very clear message of zero tolerance for the purchase of sex that has had a clear impact on trafficking."

Other points in the Stormont bill include extending the definition of 'other exploitation' to include forced begging; defining a victim of trafficking and outlining compensation procedures for victims.

It proposes allowing courts to take aggravating factors into consideration when passing sentence.

Criminal law

The bill also aims to ensure child victims have a legal advocate to support them through the relevant criminal, immigration and compensation procedures, and provide special measures for trafficking victims if they act as witnesses.

It will also set out what assistance and civil legal services are available to victims of trafficking, and ensure no prosecution is brought for a criminal offence committed by a trafficking victim as a direct consequence of being trafficked.

Lord Morrow's bill also proposes training for police and prosecutors.

It urges the Department of Justice to produce an annual strategy on raising awareness of and reducing trafficking.

Public consultation is currently taking place in the Republic of Ireland about the future of legislation on prostitution.

It is due to be referred to an Oireachtas committee at the end of this month.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter said that while there was a clear consensus on the "evils" of child prostitution and sex trafficking, there are "differing and genuinely held views" on how criminal law should deal with prostitution.

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