Northern Ireland

Human Trafficking Bill: Lord Morrow criticises police comments

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Media captionLord Morrow accused police of "playing politics"

A Democratic Unionist peer has criticised remarks made by police ahead of discussion of his bill on human trafficking and prostitution.

Lord Morrow's bill has been debated at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If passed, the bill would make it illegal to pay for sex in NI and would boost support for trafficking victims.

Lord Morrow was reacting to comments made by a senior officer, who said legalisation of prostitution "may be helpful on certain occasions".

However, in response to the peer's criticisms, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it did not support the liberalisation of prostitution laws and would "respect the role of the Assembly".

Lord Morrow questioned whether the PSNI was "overstepping its role".

The peer was responding to a newspaper interview given by Ch Supt Philip Marshall and Det Ch Supt Roy McComb, published in the News Letter newspaper on Saturday.

Ch Supt Marshall, who leads the PSNI's response to human trafficking, told the paper: "There needs to be wider social debate and understanding about what prostitution actually is in Northern Ireland before we consider what the right policy might be."

Lord Morrow said the PSNI "should not play politics, going to the press less than a week before the bill is debated calling for a public debate on a different policy solution in a clear attempt to undermine the bill".

He said he was surprised by the public intervention as the PSNI had "failed to make a submission to the consultation process" before the bill was placed before MLAs.

In response to the peer, ACC Drew Harris said the PSNI had given its response to the consultation through the Department of Justice.

"Having provided input to the consultation, PSNI will respect the role of the Assembly and will be ready to fulfil our responsibility regarding enforcement of any new legislation passed by the assembly," ACC Harris said.

He added: "The PSNI position is clear in that we do not support the liberalisation of laws in relation to prostitution.

"We are striving to find better ways to tackle the serious problem of prostitution and human trafficking and are keen to be part of the wider societal debate about how we can collectively minimise harm caused by prostitution."

Lord Morrow's proposed legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, contains 19 clauses aimed at updating Northern Ireland's laws on trafficking and prostitution.

Most parties in Northern Ireland want more time to examine the issues around the bill and want more evidence that new legislation would work.

However, Basil McCrea of NI21 said the bill was flawed.

MLAs debated the second stage of the bill for seven and a half hours on Monday, before proceedings were suspended at about 21:00 BST.

The assembly's business committee is due to decide on Tuesday when the debate will be rescheduled.

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