Laura Lee has won High Court permission to challenge a new law criminalising the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland. She was granted leave to seek a judicial
review of Stormont legislation making it illegal for men to pay for prostitutes.
Laura Lee is a sex worker whose customers have been affected by the new law.
A judge ruled she has established an arguable case that amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act breach her human rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.
A date for a full hearing of the unprecedented legal action will be set later this year.
Northern Ireland is currently the only UK region to make the purchase of sex a criminal offence.
The legislative change was introduced last year in a private member's bill brought before the Assembly by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont MLA Lord Morrow.
Although it shifts the legal burden away from prostitutes, they believe it will put them at heightened risk from customers who will clearly shy away from providing identification and will seek locations more remote from police discovery.
Almost half of British people support the legalisation and regulation of prostitution, according to new polling conducted
by Survation for Left Foot Forward.
Asked which of three legal models would be best for the UK, 48.2% supported legalising and regulating the industry, while just 11.3% support decriminalising the sellers of sex but criminalising the buyers (the so-called Nordic model). 22.8% favoured
criminalising the industry altogether.
The Survation poll was conducted ahead of a Left Foot Forward fringe event at Labour Party Conference, which will discuss which legislative approach should be adopted by the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have both publicly supported decriminalisation, but many of their colleagues disagree.
Among Labour supporters, 48.4% support legalising prostitution, while 14.5% support the introduction of the Nordic model.
Overall, 44% of people supported a change to the law, while 38% think it should stay the same.
More than 800 men have fallen victim to Avon and Somerset police. They have been fined £200 each, the
price of a 're-education' course.
The Change Course aims to 'educate' men to the legal and emotional consequences of kerb crawling. The programme has recently held its 100th session, and, since its launch eight years ago, police said 94% of course graduates have refrained from
further kerb crawling.
Places on the course are offered to men who are facing their first charge for soliciting sex in a public place. The victims pay £200 for a place on the programme, which makes up part of the conditional caution which they are given for kerb crawling.
The one day course is broken in to two major sections, education and consequences.
Tina Newman, the police organiser said:
In the morning we educate the offenders as to the law around kerb crawling and the group shares their stories as to how they get in to the cycle of offending.
And in the afternoon we talk about the consequences of their actions, what it might mean for their wife or partner, the rest of their families and in the wider community. We also discuss the impact prostitution is having on the sex worker.
Prostitution and the act of paying for sex are not yet criminal offences in the UK, but kerb crawling is a crime.
Paying for sex has been illegal in Northern Ireland for over a year now and thankfully no one has so far
been convicted for offences. However there have been two victims of the law who have been cautioned by police. This is an official sanction that is recorded on a person's criminal record. There are two cases also being considered for further action by
Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
According to Northern Ireland police (PSNI), more than 800 men are paying for sex in Northern Ireland every day, but over the past year, only 10 men have been investigated by police. Out of the seven of those cases referred to the PPS, three were thrown
out, two men received cautions while the remaining two cases are still being considered by a senior prosecutor.
Det Supt John McVea commented that greater priority is given to crimes involving trafficking rather than paying for sex:.
We have identified 60 people in the past year who have been the victims of human trafficking. That is a considerable number and we feel we have made a significant impact on human trafficking throughout Northern Ireland.
Paying for sex within this act is a not a priority, our priority is to target the human trafficking element and sexual exploitation.
[However] If we come across criminality we will address it, and that's where the ten cases have been referred to the PPS in the past year.
The lack of prosecutions has come as no surprise to David Ford, who was the Justice Minister when the law was introduced.
The challenge for police is how they actually produce evidence from what is, in effect, a consensual business relationship between two adults.
The DUP's Lord Morrow, who pushed for the new law threatened the PPS that questions will be raised if there are no prosecutions soon, perhaps noting that the effectiveness of the law will be reviewed in two years time. He said:
I look to the PPS to do what they are supposed to be doing, and if over the next 12 months there is no change we will be talking to the PPS to ask them to explain the reason why.
However sex workers have explained how they are endangered by the new law. Catriona told the BBC:
I'm not surprised there have been no prosecutions as it was always going to be difficult to get the evidence.
My clients are aware of the law and if anything it has left sex workers at greater risk, as it is harder to scan our clients.
They are reluctant to be upfront about who they are and that means we aren't sure who we are seeing or if they are genuine. Clients are more fearful they will be found out and will end up in court and have their names in the newspaper.
I think the police have better things to be doing than going after people who are having consenting sex.
Under the legislation, victims convicted of paying for sex will face a fine of £1,000 and up to a year in prison.
There are reports circulating about a planned coffee and blow job bar to open in London. Ideasman Bradley Charvet told The Independent that he intends to open a coffee shop in Paddington, London following on from the first cafe in Geneva with
a planned launch date of 5th December this year.
The Baroque-themed cafe will serve coffee and a few pastries, with customers being given an iPad on which to choose an escort from a list of thumbnails to perform oral sex on them. £50 will be the base charge (billed as the most expensive coffee in
the UK') with £10 added for every extra 15 minutes.
The legality of this is somewhat of a grey area, with prostitution itself being legal in Great Britain but the running of a brothel a crime. Charvet, however, insists "everything related to [the Fellatio Cafe is legal" and his lawyer is
currently setting everything up. Charvet added:
We have contacted the English Collective of Prostitutes, which advocates safety for sex workers, for comment.
This idea comes from Pattaya [In Thailand], we saw this kind of cafe a few years ago.
It will be a cafe like others, plus two booths for shy people. In Switzerland, booths are not allowed anymore. We are talking with the UK police to fix that for the shy guys.
UK Parliament Committee recommends an immediate end to laws prohibiting soliciting and brothel keeping (when adult and consensual)...but will then consider whether men should be criminalised for buying sex
If the committee realises that current prohibitions endanger sex workers then it seems unlikely that they can recommend the criminalisation of men. Even if the crime of soliciting is repealed, then instead of soliciting, the sex workers will be guilty of
inciting men to commit a crime.
The Committee introduces an interim report saying:
The Home Affairs Committee publishes an interim report on prostitution, saying that soliciting by sex workers, and sex workers sharing premises, should be decriminalised.
Home Office should change legislation
The Committee says the Home Office should immediately change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and brothel-keeping laws allow sex workers to share premises, without losing the ability to prosecute those who use brothels to
control or exploit sex workers. There must be zero tolerance of the organised criminal exploitation of sex workers.
The Home Office should also legislate to delete previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers, as these records make it much more difficult for people to move out of prostitution into other forms of work if they wish
Around 11% of British men aged 16--74 have paid for sex on at least one occasion, which equates to 2.3 million individuals.
The number of sex workers in the UK is estimated to be around 72,800 with about 32,000 working in London.
Sex workers have an average of 25 clients per week paying an average of £78 per visit.
In 2014--15, there were 456 prosecutions of sex workers for loitering and soliciting.
An estimated 152 sex workers were murdered between 1990 and 2015. 49% of sex workers (in one survey) said that they were worried about their safety.
There were 1,139 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2014 and 248 in April to June 2015 (following implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015).
With regards to changing the laws on buying sex, this inquiry will continue. The Committee will be seeking further evidence on the impacts of the recently introduced sex buyer laws in Northern Ireland and France, and the model of regulation used in for
example New Zealand, to make a better assessment for its final report. The laws on prostitution need ultimately to be reconsidered in the round, not least to give the police much more clarity on where their priorities should lie and how to tackle the
exploitation and trafficking associated with the sex industry.
Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is an important and separate issue from prostitution involving consenting adults. It is too early to assess the impact of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 on levels of trafficking, but the Crown Prosecution
Service identified 248 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the first three months of the Act's operation, compared to 1,139 in 2014.
Research on prostitution
Despite the obvious difficulties involved in getting data on an essentially covert industry, the Committee is "dismayed" at the poor quality of information available about the extent and nature of prostitution in England and Wales. The figures
cited above must be considered in this context.
Without a proper evidence base, the Government cannot make informed decisions about the effectiveness of current legislation and policies, and cannot target funding and support interventions effectively. The Home Office should commission an in-depth
research study on the current extent and nature of prostitution in England and Wales, within the next 12 months.
Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
This is the first time that Parliament has considered the issue of prostitution in the round for decades. It is a polarising subject with strong views on all sides. This interim report will be followed by final recommendations, when we consider other
options, including the different approaches adopted by other countries.
As a first step, there has been universal agreement that elements of the present law are unsatisfactory. Treating soliciting as a criminal offence is having an adverse effect, and it is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be
penalised and stigmatised in this way. The criminalisation of sex workers should therefore end.
The current law on brothel keeping also means sex-workers can be too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises, which can often compromise their safety. There must however be zero tolerance of the organised criminal exploitation of sex
workers, and changes to legislation should not lessen the Home Office's ability to prosecute those engaged in exploitation.
The Committee will evaluate a number of the alternative models as this inquiry continues, including the sex-buyers law as operated in Sweden, the full decriminalised model used in Denmark, and the legalised model used in Germany and the Netherlands.