Northern Ireland Justice Minister to strengthen sexual exploitation of children laws

The Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long has announced that she intends to strengthen the existing law to provide more comprehensive protection for children from sexual exploitation and to specifically ban the offence of “upskirting”.

Following on from the Report of the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland 2014 (‘the Marshall Report’) and the Justice Committee Report on Justice in the 21st Century 2015, a public consultation on the Review of the Law on Child Sexual Exploitation was held between February and April 2019. This public consultation looked at 14 areas of the criminal law which relate to circumstances where children can be sexually exploited. There were 58 responses to this public review.

The report from the public consultation on the law in relation to child sexual exploitation has now been published. It makes 14 recommendations and it also summarises the recommended actions as follows:

  1. Removal of legislative references to ‘child prostitute’, ‘child prostitution’ and ‘child pornography’.
  2. Inclusion of live streamed images in CSE offences.
  3. The adequacy of the existing grooming offence and whether this needs to be amended/addressed in future legislation.
  4. To consider the defence of reasonable belief in sexual offences against children to ensure that recommendations for future legislative change are workable and appropriate within the current legal system.
  5. Abuse of Trust Offences to be considered in the content of whether a wider definition of position of trust needs to be considered before further legislative proposals in this area can be considered.
  6. To engage with key stakeholders to explore possible avenues for improving outcomes within the current legislative framework in relation to indecent self-images of children under 18.
  7. To review the issue of using on-line anonymity to harass once the current law on harassment has been strengthened by the proposed legislation on stalking and the Review of Hate Crime Legislation has reported its findings.
  8. To legislate for a new offence of Adults masquerading as children online
  9. To legislate for a new offence of Up-skirting .
  10. To undertake further engagement to assess how best to ensure that the law protects children from exploitation arising from the sale and possession of child sex dolls
  11. To ensure compliance with international standards.
  12. To consider the position vis-a-vis the inclusion of all children under 18 within scope of abduction offences and whether legislative change is needed.
  13. To consider whether there is a need for legislative change in relation to recovery order for children not in care
  14. To introduce and bring forward legislative proposals in the next Assembly to provide for new police powers to request information on guests in hotel-type accommodation and to ensure any such proposals are in compliance with data protections principles.

Minister Long intends to bring forward legislative changes which will be introduced to the Assembly through the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill (2021). The changes being proposed are changes to terminology to remove terms such as “child prostitution” from current legislation; legislating against adults masquerading as children online; and the inclusion of live streaming in relevant sexual offences.

Minister Long said that said: “The sexual exploitation of children is an issue which is, and should be, of deep concern for all of us in society. I am determined to play my part in tackling this type of abuse and making our communities safer for our children and young people.”

Minister Long has also committed to working with partners and stakeholders going forward on the various areas identified in the report that require further engagement.

Katrina Gray, Partner, BLM

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