Amnesty International has urged Northern Ireland's politicians to ditch plans to criminalise the purchasing of sex. The human rights organisation wants a clause contained in a bill against human trafficking to be excised because it argues it would create
a hierarchy of criminal liability among sex workers.
Clause six of the bill would make it a criminal offence to buy, but not sell, sex and is based on Sweden's repressive model. Lord Morrow, a Democratic Unionist member of the Stormont assembly who also sits in the House of Lords, has been trying to force
the bill through the devolved parliament.
Amnesty stressed it was not taking sides on the debate over sex work and prostitution, but said sex work and human trafficking were two very complex social phenomena that required different laws. Grainne Teggart, Amnesty's Northern Ireland
We recommend that our political parties remove clause six from the bill and that planned research into sex work by the Department of Justice is used to inform future policy, which should establish the degree to which legislation -- together with
educational, social, cultural and other measures -- could serve to reduce the demand that fuels trafficking, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
It is claimed this clause will help protect sex workers by shifting the criminal liability away from them as the seller of sexual services, to the purchaser. In reality, it fails to do this and provides no exploration of, or guarantees against, the
potential unintended consequences of such a move. It is clear that many others, including the police, share our concerns on the risk of potential negative effects.
In effect, clause six would introduce a hierarchy of criminal liability amongst those engaged in the selling of sexual services, many of whom may be vulnerable, with some remaining at risk of prosecution and others not.
Legislation to criminalise men for buying sex in Northern Ireland would be unworkable because the devolved government at Stormont has no powers to authorise telephone bugging operations.
The region's justice minister, David Ford, has told the Guardian he is far from convinced over the plans because mobile intercepts, crucial in prosecutions in countries which have introduced the laws, are [supposedly] rarely used, even in cases against
republican and loyalist terror groups.
Police would have to intercept all calls from clients to sex workers in the province, Ford warned. He claimed only a UK cabinet minister such as the Northern Ireland secretary had the power to sign off spying operations.
In response to Democratic Unionist assembly member Lord Morrow's attempt to introduce such a law via new human anti-trafficking legislation, Ford has established a commission to explore the extent of prostitution in Northern Ireland and the efficacy of
the Swedish model. Ford told the Guardian:
I think there is far too little evidence to legislate in a hurry -- the research will tell us what the position is. But I am far from convinced that what is currently being suggested such as the Swedish model would work here.
One specific issue which has been raised with me is the fact that the Swedish model largely depends upon telephone intercept evidence. Telephone intercepts can be obtained by an officer more or less the equivalent of a police superintendent in Sweden. In
Northern Ireland such telephone intercepts would have to be signed by the secretary of state and I think that is a very different situation.
Certainly in terms of the proportionality of such a process these intercepts are applied against serious cases such as terrorism not issued such as those relating to prostitution, and indeed even in the case of terrorist cases not very often.
And to be honest -- not that I would know! Because the National Security Agency cannot operate yet in Northern Ireland because of objections from nationalist politicians to it working here.
As I said before my understanding is that the only person here who could sign off and authorise the use of telephone intercepts to catch men in the act so to speak would be Theresa Villiers, the current secretary of state, or any future one.
The justice minister said he was concerned that any legislation directed at people who buy sex could make matters worse for those involved in prostitution.
The issue that concerns me as minister of justice is whether there is a need for legislation to make sure the law actually deals with the problem. What we need to do is to protect the women (because they are nearly all women involved in it) and assist
those who want to get out of prostitution if they want out. And in particular, that we take strong action directed against those who are trafficking human beings for any purpose. The specific issue of a ban on the purchase of sexual services, and even
that is an unclear phrase, is not where I think the priority needs to be at this point.
Meanwhile nasty Tory speaks out in favour of jailing men just for buying sex
Caroline Spelman, the former Tory environment secretary, says buying sex from prostitutes should be criminalised. She also called on more male politicians to enter into a discussion on the reform of prostitution laws. (
Spelman said she supports the Nordic approach, used in Sweden, Iceland and Norway, which makes it a crime to buy, but not sell, sexual services. Speaking to The Guardian , she said it is important for more men to make their views clear on the issue,
rather assuming that men would support her miserable cause.