New Sexual Offences Bill expected to further protect victims of harassment

Bill will add that a person’s belief in consent to sexual act must be reasonably held

The new Bill is part of Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee’s Justice 2021 plan. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The new Bill is part of Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee’s Justice 2021 plan. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The Government will seek to tighten up laws around harassment in order to further prevent offenders from contacting their victims.

Officials in the Department of Justice are drafting a new Sexual Offences Bill, which will be published towards the end of the year.

Under current law, harassment orders can be obtained by a victim to stop the offender from communicating with them or approaching their home or workplace. At present these orders can be imposed at the time of the offender’s sentence or at any time before the offender’s release from prison.

However, as part of the Justice 2021 plan being developed by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, the changes will mean that the harassment orders can be applied for after a person is released from prison, potentially widening the scope of protection available to a victim.

The existing measures form part of the 2017 Sexual Offences Act.

Consent

The new Bill will also implement a recommendation from the Law Reform Commission in relation to an accused person’s belief in consent, to say that their belief that another person was consenting to a sexual act must be reasonable, as well as honestly held.

The current law is that if an accused person says that they believed another person was consenting, the test is whether they “honestly” or “genuinely” believed this.

The new sexual offences legislation will also give effect to the recommendations of the O’Malley Report, which examined the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

Universities

Separately yesterday the Technological Higher Education Association called for the appointment of dedicated officers to prevent sexual harassment in universities.

The report also calls for significant funding for sexual misconduct management.

The Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he asked the institutions under his remit to create specific plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment. These are near finalisation, he said.

“I understand that a number of institutions have submitted their plans to the HEA, and the remainder are to be finalised and submitted by the end of March. I look forward to considering these institutional action plans, and the plans that institutions have for addressing this critical issue”.

“Our third-level institutions have an opportunity to be leaders in this field. I am committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all staff and students in our higher education institutions,” Mr Harris said.

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