Guest Post: Proposed Reform of the Law on the Purchase of Sexual Services

We are pleased to welcome this Guest Post from Laura Lee, a sex worker, award-winning blogger and sex workers’ rights campaigner. Laura tweets at @GlasgaeLauraLee.

The recent recommendations from the Oireachtas Committee on Justice in relation to paid sex are as worrying as they are unworkable.

From the very beginning, the campaign by Turn Off the Red Light has been impressively coordinated and orchestrated, but any legislative change should give due regard to those it is purporting to protect, the sex workers themselves. As an Irish sex worker with some twenty years experience, I asked to have access to the committee hearings but was ignored. Further, I appealed to Alan Shatter via the Irish media to talk to me about what could potentially be a very dangerous change to Irish law. Again, I had no response.

The basis of the current proposals would appear to be that the vast majority of sex workers are coerced, trafficked or under age. I know this to be false. The ‘rescue’ industry is big business, and as such, the continuity of age old myths around the sex industry is essential to ensure public support, but more importantly, funding. I believe that if the vast majority of Irish people were aware that the same order of nuns responsible for the Magdalene Laundries outrage are behind one of the most vocal anti sex work protagonists in the ROI, then perhaps their views would alter.

Turning to the proposals themselves, the most pertinent suggestion is the introduction of the Swedish model. In short, we know that in terms of protecting sex workers, the Swedish model fails. It creates a vast rift between sex workers and the police, not to mention outreach services. Sex workers are less likely to report attacks because they fear that their address will be targeted by police in the future, to arrest clients. Street based sex workers will work further away from detection, to avoid arrest. This leads to less time available to assess a client and a marked increase in assaults and sex offences.

If there are sex workers who are working under coercion or duress and who appear frightened, the door should be left firmly open so that the clients can report what they have seen without fear of arrest. It is not unheard of for clients to contact Crimestoppers and indeed I have done a report on several occasions on a client’s behalf. As the clients are often the only people who will come into contact with these sex workers, then to implement a law which will drive that very group away from the Gardai is nonsensical.

The proposal to remove the phones of those suspected to be involved in the industry is downright dangerous. With the launch of Uglymugs.ie, now more than ever it is essential that sex workers have access to their phones, as Ugly Mugs not only send out details of dangerous clients by email but also by text message. One missed message could cost a life. The further proposal of ‘recklessly permitting a premises to be used for the purposes of prostitution’ is also problematic. Landlords in fear of prosecution will render women homeless, even where there is no concrete evidence that they are sex workers. Also, to conflate the accessing of sites which advertise consensual sex between adults with sites which advertise child pornography is breath taking.

The single biggest hurdle to be overcome in Ireland with regard to the sex industry is stigma, and we have a long way to go with that, but the implementation of the Swedish model will only make that stigma worse. The recent tragic death of Petite Jasmine in Sweden is concrete proof that stigma kills. It’s time that Ireland recognises that sex work is a form of labour like any other and that sex workers deserve the protection of the law, not persecution.

When the UN-backed Global Commission on HIV and the Law has called for sex work to be decriminalised on foot of evidence from around the world, is this the Ireland we envision ? Homeless women with no phones ? It’s time to recognise that whilst abuses happen, they are nowhere near as prevalent as those in favour of abolition would suggest and that the way forward is to tackle those abusers, not those of us who engage in paid consensual sex to support our families.

Guest Post: Proposed Reform of the Law on the Purchase of Sexual Services

Reform of Irish Sexual Offences Legislation

We are delighted to welcome this guest post by Dr Susan Leahy. Susan is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Limerick.

In recent times, a series of cases have highlighted problems with sentencing in sexual offence cases. The trials of Anthony Lyons and Patrick O’Brien have caused many to question whether our criminal justice system is capable of providing justice for victims of sexual violence. Certainly, the issue of sentencing in sexual offence cases is a controversial one and one which will no doubt continue to generate debate. However, another serious problem with the law on sexual offences which has received less attention of late is the legislative inertia in relation to the substantive and procedural rules which define the offences themselves, as well as providing for special rules of evidence for sexual offence trials. The last substantial review of the law in this area occurred with the passing of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981  and the Criminal Law (Rape)(Amendment) Act 1990. Since then, although there have been some piecemeal developments such as the reform of the statutory rape laws in 2006, the law has remained largely stagnant. In this respect, Ireland has lagged considerably behind other common law jurisdictions such as England and Wales who substantially overhauled their sexual offences law ten years ago with the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Minister Alan Shatter has recently announced that the Department of Justice has been engaging in a review of Irish sexual offences law and the Taoiseach has promised that a sexual offences Bill will be published this year. This post outlines some reforms which it is to be hoped will be included in any prospective legislative reform. Continue reading “Reform of Irish Sexual Offences Legislation”

Reform of Irish Sexual Offences Legislation

The State We Are Currently In: Institutionalisation of Asylum Seekers in the Direct Provision System

There has been much focus and commentbut no full State apology, for the role that institutions of the State and the Irish people as a whole played in  permitting the operation of Magdalene Laundries for over eight decades.  The mantra of “never again” rings hollow in light of Ireland’s current practices in containment and control of asylum seekers within the Direct Provision System (see Gavin Titley’s article on this for the Guardian in October 2012). Unable to work, provided with meals, shared accommodation with strangers and a meagre allowance of €19.10 per week: the system of direct provision in all its Dickensian glory. In Ireland, there was no parliamentary debate on the foundation of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA). Ministerial circulars on the foundation of the system of direct provision were not (and are not) readily available to the public or to asylum seekers themselves. When I initially applied under the Freedom of Information Acts in 2007 for documentation held by the Department of Justice on the legal basis for direct provision, I was told there was no such documentation. I eventually gained access to much of the documentation through the Department of Social Protection,

It is important to note that there are very significant differences between the horrors of Magdalene Laundries and the system of direct provision: direct provision hostels are not workhouses, there is no evidence of systematic abuse and asylum seekers do have the ability to leave (although this is fairly illusory given that asylum seekers are barred from receiving any other form of welfare or State support). Rather than religious congregations in charge, private enterprises generally operate this system on behalf of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA).

However, there are some striking parallels in terms of numbers in the direct provision system, length of stay and the dehumanising and institutionalising effect of the direct provision system on asylum seekers. Continue reading “The State We Are Currently In: Institutionalisation of Asylum Seekers in the Direct Provision System”

The State We Are Currently In: Institutionalisation of Asylum Seekers in the Direct Provision System

Damache and Constitutional Retrospectivity

In February of this year a most significant decision was handed down by the Supreme Court in the area of criminal procedure. This decision, Damache v DPP [2012] IESC 11 (discussed here), found that s.29(1) of the Offences Against the State Act 1939, which had been in operation for the past 36 years having been inserted by s.5 of the Criminal Law Act 1976, was contrary to the Constitution. The provision allowed for a member of the Garda Síochana not below the rank of superintendent, to issue a search warrant in certain specified circumstances. It did not, however, specify that such warrants should only be issued by members of appropriate rank who were independent of the relevant investigation. It was with this omission that the Supreme Court found fault. Indeed, this omission, and the Garda practice of having superintendents who were directly involved in an investigation issue warrants under s.29(1) had previously been criticised by Justice Morris in the “Burnfoot Module” of the Morris Tribunal Report (2008). In para 6.22 of that Module the learned Chairperson of the Tribunal observed that

The danger exists that a warrant would be issued automatically and without proper investigation of the matter by the superintendent to whom the application is made if he or she is heading the investigation. There is a danger that the power to issue a section 29 warrant thereby becomes a mere formality in which the investigating Sergeant might as well be empowered to issue a search warrant to himself.

The Supreme Court in Damache held that the issuing of search warrants is an administrative act but it must be exercised judicially. Accordingly, independence is necessary in the exercise of the act. This, along with the importance of the constitutional protection of the inviolability of the dwelling, under Art 40.5, led the Court to find that s.29(1) was repugnant to the Constitution given that it did not insist on independence in the garda issuing of the relevant search warrants.

An obvious question which arose in the aftermath of the Damache decision is what impact this finding would have on other previously-decided cases. Is a finding of unconstitutionality retrospective or not? Continue reading “Damache and Constitutional Retrospectivity”

Damache and Constitutional Retrospectivity

Consultation on new Human Rights and Equality Body Open.

The Working Group on the establishment of the new, enhanced Human Rights and Equality Commission is seeking input and ideas from civil society, members of the public and those interested in the future of human rights and equality in Ireland, on key questions arising from their Terms of Reference. This consultation process will help to inform the Working Group’s consideration of the functions, features and priorities of the new Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The Working Group was appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter T.D., on 6 October and has met twice to date.

The key questions the Working Group is consulting on are:

a. What do people want the new body to do?

b. What features and functions does it need to do these things?

c. How should it be structured and what working methods should it use to achieve the above?

It is intended that the new Commission will be in place by the end of February 2012. As the Working Group has such a short timeframe for their work, the closing date for submissions is Wednesday 23 November 2011 at 5.30pm.

Contributions should not exceed 1,500 words and may be emailed to info@upr.ie.

Further information is available from the Working Group’s Secretariat, Department of Justice and Equality, Floor 2, Bishop’s Square, Redmond’s Hill, Dublin 2.

Consultation on new Human Rights and Equality Body Open.

Call for Expressions of Interest for Appointment to European Commission against Racism and Intolerence

The Minister for Justice and Equality Mr Alan Shatter has announced that he is seeking expressions of interest from suitably qualified members of the public to be considered for appointment as Ireland’s representative on the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The ECRI’s role is described as follows on the Department’s site:

ECRI’s objectives are: to review member states’ legislation, policies and other measures to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance and their effectiveness; to propose further action at local, national and European level; to formulate general policy recommendations to member states; to study international legal instruments applicable in the matter with a view to their reinforcement where appropriate.

ECRI provides Council of Europe member states with concrete and practical advice on how to tackle problems of racism and intolerance in their country. To this end, it examines in each country the legal framework for combating racism and racial discrimination, its practical implementation, the existence of bodies to assist victims of racism, the situation of vulnerable groups in specific policy areas (education, employment, housing etc.) and the tone of political and public debate around issues relevant for these groups.

For more information see the Press Release. Further details on eligibility criteria and how to apply are available on the Department’s website here.



 

Call for Expressions of Interest for Appointment to European Commission against Racism and Intolerence

"[C]onditions in some of our prisons may expose the State to significant reputational, legal and financial risk": Thornton Hall Review Group Report

The Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality on Thursday of last week, July 28 2011. The Group was established by the Minister, Alan Shatter T.D., in early April 2011 with specific terms of reference which, basically, provided for a review of the need for new prison accommodation in the jurisdiction and consideration of the future of the Thornton Hall prison project. The Review Group’s report is interesting from a number of perspectives. The recommendations relating directly to the future of the Thornton Hall prison project are more than noteworthy; observations and recommendations made regarding other aspects of the prison system and the state of the prison estate in Ireland at present are intriguing; and statistics provided on the levels of imprisonment, the use of temporary release and the pervasive problem of over-crowding are fascinating. Continue reading “"[C]onditions in some of our prisons may expose the State to significant reputational, legal and financial risk": Thornton Hall Review Group Report”

"[C]onditions in some of our prisons may expose the State to significant reputational, legal and financial risk": Thornton Hall Review Group Report

Challenging the State of Exception: The Holy See and the Duty of Non-Interference in Ireland's Domestic Affairs


In the aftermath of the publication of the Report into Child Sexual Abuse in the diocese of Cloyne, the status and nature of Irish diplomatic relations with the Holy See have come into sharp focus.  The exceptionally strong findings that the Holy See’s dismissal of the Irish Church’s framework guidelines as a “study document” was “entirely unhelpful” in its impact on practices in the diocese have provoked a direct government response. The report accuses the Holy See, through this secret letter to bishops, as having given comfort to dissenters to who did not wish to implement the guidelines.

The Holy See is currently party to various conventions including, most controversially, the Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. These now represent clear gateways for Ireland in ensuring the accountability of the Holy See. Continue reading “Challenging the State of Exception: The Holy See and the Duty of Non-Interference in Ireland's Domestic Affairs”

Challenging the State of Exception: The Holy See and the Duty of Non-Interference in Ireland's Domestic Affairs

Universal Periodic Review and Reception of Asylum Seekers

Human Rights in Ireland is pleased to bring you this guest post from Claire McCarthy, Policy & Campaigning Officer, at Nasc, The Irish Immigrant Support Centre.

Ireland’s human rights record will be examined by our peers in the UN this coming October, when our turn comes up in a new UN process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Human rights organisations have submitted their concerns and recommendations for the consideration of the country representatives who will examine our record. Having examined most of them, the reception of asylum seekers appears to be by far the most widespread concern, affecting as it does children’s rights, women’s rights, mental health, social inclusion and general civil liberties. A range of organisations concerned with Ireland’s human rights standards have already made  submissions that will inform the country representatives who will ask questions, and make recommendations to Ireland about how we might improve our human rights record. Some of those organisations have taken the opportunity presented by the UPR to consult with as many concerned citizens as possible in order to prepare truly representative submissions. You may have Continue reading “Universal Periodic Review and Reception of Asylum Seekers”

Universal Periodic Review and Reception of Asylum Seekers

Community Service Orders as alternative to Imprisonment

In a move which shows that our political parties are not always as opposed to ideas put forward by one another as one might think, the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, yesterday published the Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No.2) Bill 2011 which is almost identical to the lapsed Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No.2) Bill 2011 published by then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, on January 12 2011. This Bill seeks to increase the usage of community service orders in place of short-term custodial sentences, a move which has long been advocated by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and is included in the Programme for Government agreed between the two government parties (Fine Gael and Labour).

One significant distinction between this Bill and its January predecessor, however, is that the No.2 Bill requires a court to consider the imposition of a community service order where it would otherwise be of the opinion that a custodial sentence of anything up to 12 months would be appropriate in respect of the relevant offence, whereas the January Bill required such consideration only in relation to situations otherwise leading to imprisonment for up to 6 months. Continue reading “Community Service Orders as alternative to Imprisonment”

Community Service Orders as alternative to Imprisonment