Justice Bill narrowed

In June 2021, a decision was taken to narrow the scope of a proposed Justice Bill in order to secure Executive agreement and progress important public protection provisions. agendaNi outlines the contents of the re-drafted Justice (Sex Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill and proposed amendments.

Introduced to the Assembly on 5 July 2021, the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill was significantly shorter than originally intended by Justice Minister Naomi Long MLA, with elements of originally intended Bill dropped to secure its introduction.

The new Bill comprises only Parts 1 (Sexual Offences), 2 (Trafficking and Exploitation) and 5 (Prevention Orders) of the original Bill, a change Minister Naomi Long told the Assembly “was necessary to secure Executive agreement to its introduction and thus progress at least some of the important public protection provisions of the previous Bill in this mandate”.

However, the Department has indicated its intention to bring forward a number of amendments as the Bill progresses, for which the Minister has secured Executive agreement.

The Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill has two key principles: to enhance public safety by implementing certain elements of the report of the Gillen review covering serious sexual offence cases and a review of the law on child sexual exploitation and sexual offences against children; and to improve services for victims of trafficking and exploitation.

An outline of the Bill’s contents is included in Figure 1.

The Justice (Sex Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill includes:

  • Provisions arising from the Gillen review that are being progressed, which include;
    exclusion of 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;
  • Provisions arising from the outcome of a review of the law on child sexual exploitation and sexual offences against children to:
    replace legislative references to ‘child prostitution’ and ‘child pornography’;
    include live streamed images in the definition of exploitation for sexual purposes; and
    create a new offence of adults masquerading as children online.
  • Provisions to create a new offence of up skirting and down blousing;
  • Adjustments to include the offence of abduction of children in care to Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) arrangements;
  • Adjustments to dis-apply time limits for complaints under Violent Offences Prevention Order (VOPO) arrangements; and
  • Amendments to modern slavery provisions in the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Act to extend support to victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and to remove the statutory requirement to produce an annual Modern Slavery Strategy.

A significant consequence of the narrowing of the previously proposed Bill is that important legislation, including that required to comply with court rulings, assist court recovery and speed up justice, and reduce the legal aid bill, will not proceed in the current mandate.

However, the Minister has outlined her intention to the Assembly to include a number of amendments to the Bill during its passage, namely:

  1. a legislative fix to reinstate four amendments incorrectly removed into Schedule 2 of the Magistrates Courts Order 1981 to allow for the summary prosecution of these indictable offences under Article 45 of that Order;
  2. abolition of the rough sex defence;
  3. an extension to existing revenge porn provisions to include a threat of publication; and
  4. provisions to widen the scope and strengthen the current law on abuse of trust.

Furthermore, the Minister told the Assembly: “I expect the elements of my original Bill that I had to drop to secure this Bill’s introduction will feature in a new Miscellaneous Provisions Bill early in the next mandate if non-legislative solutions cannot be identified in the interim.”

The Consideration Stage is to be scheduled. Minister Long has previously outlined her intention to introduce the proposed amendments at consideration stage.

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