Sexual Offences Bill to be published next week, says Minister for Justice

Legislation will strengthen laws on grooming, pornography and harassment

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (centre)  with Dr Clíona Saidléar (left) and Anne Scully, both of  Rape Crisis Network Ireland, at theRoyal Irish Academy, Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (centre) with Dr Clíona Saidléar (left) and Anne Scully, both of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, at theRoyal Irish Academy, Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

New legislation on sexual offences will strengthen laws on grooming, pornography and harassment, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said.

The scheme of the Sexual Offences Bill will be brought to Cabinet and published next week.

The detailed legislation, containing 40 sections, will include measures to broaden the definitions of some sexual offences and strengthen measures so that offences will be easier to prosecute.

“It will include strengthened provisions on age of consent, grooming and harassment,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “And it will strengthen offences of acquiring pornography online.”

The department received approval from the Cabinet to draft the legislation last December. It had been described as “long overdue” by organisations working in the field and by politicians including Senator Jillian van Turnhout.

The Minister also said yesterday that she would bring forward legislation on victims’ rights and on domestic violence in the new year.

Closing gaps New domestic violence legislation will consolidate and reform domestic violence legislation, “closing the gaps” in current law, the Minister said. The new law will allow Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.

The convention is the first European treaty on violence against women and domestic violence. It requires that member states work to prevent violence, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

Ms Fitzgerald said the new legislation would include measures to develop “more flexible” emergency barring orders, which had been seen as one of the challenges in the convention, given property rights under the Irish Constitution.

She said she was “fully committed” to its introduction in the new year.

Victims’ rights The new victims’ rights legislation will be introduced in 2015 so that Ireland can comply with its obligations under the EU victims’ directive, which was adopted at European level in 2012.

The directive includes obligations to protect victims from harm and intimidation and provide access to information, services and compensation.

Ms Fitzgerald said the new legislation would be “a very important mark of a change of approach to victims” and would reposition victims so their needs are central to the criminal justice system.

“I think that is really important because victims have been too marginalised within the system, and what is very clear is that we need to listen more carefully, act more carefully and respond more comprehensively to the experience of victims,” she said.

“All of those initiatives will mean that we are responding more comprehensively to the experience of victims and we will have better legislation and stronger legislation in place.”