Upskirting, cyberflashing will be criminal offences under new law in North

Non-fatal strangulation, posing as a child online also among new offences added to Bill

Upskirting and cyberflashing are to become specific criminal offences under new legislation passed by the Stormont Assembly.

Non-fatal strangulation and posing as a child online are also among the new offences added to the statute in Northern Ireland by the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill.

The Bill also prevents people accused of sexual crimes from deploying the defence of “rough sex” in court proceedings.

The law changes, tabled by Justice Minister Naomi Long, passed their final stage in the Assembly on Tuesday. They will become law after receiving Royal assent.

The Bill implemented proposals emerging from a review on how serious sexual offence cases are handled within the justice system.

Provisions arising from the review conducted by former appeal court judge John Gillen include exclusion of the 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.

The Bill also passed legislation emerging from the findings of review of the law on child sexual exploitation and sexual offences against children.

The new laws will also seek to improve services for victims of trafficking and exploitation.

Welcoming the passage of the legislation, Ms 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.”

On the latest Bill, Ms Long added: “This Bill includes the creation of several new offences: non-fatal strangulation, upskirting and down blousing, cyberflashing and masquerading as a child online. It also addresses a number of issues affecting the experiences of victims in the justice system, including the exclusion of the public from all serious sexual offence court hearings.

“It also closes gaps in the law that offenders try to exploit, by abolishing what is known as the rough sex defence and further tightening of legislation relating to the unwanted disclosure of private sexual images.

“Where previously women and girls may have found it difficult to have their complaints in these areas taken seriously, I am confident that the Bill will give them greater protection from those who seek to blight lives through their offending behaviour.” – PA