Northern Ireland’s Sex Purchase Law Will Come into Effect 1st June

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Europe Regional Correspondent

Image by: (c) Used with kind permission from Matt Lemon Photography

From 1st June, 2015 a new law in Northern Ireland criminalising the purchase of sex will come into effect. This will make Northern Ireland the only region of the United Kingdom to adopt the Nordic model, after a similar bill failed to pass in Scotland in 2013.

The bill was passed in Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly by 81 votes to 10 last October despite research commissioned by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland that concluded that Northern Ireland’s adoption of the Nordic Model would not be in sex workers’ best interests.

As we reported last year, the research from Queen's University found that trafficking victims account for less than 3 percent of people working in the sex trades, fewer than 10 people. More than a third of clients surveyed believed that paying for sex was already illegal. Of the 171 sex workers questioned, less than 2 percent supported criminalisation of clients, 61 percent saying that it would make them less safe.

A press release from the Northern Ireland Executive was published on 20th May. It said that “under section 15 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, it will become an offence to obtain sexual services in exchange for payment, either by paying, or promising to pay, any person directly, or through a third party.

“This replaces the offence of paying for the sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force, where it is currently unlawful to pay for the sexual services of a prostitute who has been exploited by a third party using force or threats. This offence, which is an offence whether or not the person buying the services knows of the exploitation, carries a maximum penalty of a level 3 (£1,000) fine.

“Under the new law, it will be illegal to obtain, for payment, sexual services from anyone, whether or not there is exploitation. The sexual services which will be illegal must involve the buyer being physically present with the seller and there must either be physical sexual contact or the seller must perform sexual acts where they touch themselves for the sexual gratification of the buyer.

“Under the legislation, payment includes money or the provision of goods or services.

“Anyone convicted under the new legislation can be sentenced to a maximum of one year’s imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

“It is not an offence to sell sexual services. The new law also removes criminality from loitering or soliciting for the purposes of offering services as a prostitute in a street or public place. It remains an offence to keep or manage a brothel.”



Irish Sex worker, Laura Lee, who is based in Scotland and regularly travels to Northern Ireland for work, intends to launch legal action against the new law. She told The Guardian in March that she will launch her case at Belfast's High Court in June and is prepared to take her fight all the way to the European courts in Strasbourg.

“I am doing this because I believe that when two consenting adults have sex behind closed doors and if money changes hands then that is none of the state’s business. The law they have introduced has nothing to do with people being trafficked but simply on their, the DUP’s (Democratic Unionist Party), moral abhorrence of paid sex.

“I believe that after June 1st, sex workers’ lives in Northern Ireland will actually be harder and the industry will be pushed underground.”