Catherine Connolly TD expresses serious concern over delays in the statutory review of the 2017 legislation criminalising the purchase of sex. Press Release – 26th February 2024

Deputy Catherine Connolly said that the Government’s ongoing delays in its review of Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 are a cause of serious concern. The legislation, criminalising the purchase of sex and introducing heavier penalties for “brothel keeping”, which is where 2 or more sex workers work from the same premises, was commenced in March 2017. Included in the legislation is an obligation for a report to be prepared within 3 years of commencement of the legislation, including information on arrests and convictions and an assessment of the operation of the legislation on the safety and well-being of sex workers. Now, almost 7 years after the commencement, we are still waiting for the report.

The stated intention of the legislation was to protect sex workers from abuse and violence, but it was widely criticised at the time of introduction by sex worker advocacy groups as harmful to sex workers as it would make them less likely to report abuse out of fear of prosecution, thus pushing their work further underground. Research by Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Limerick and Amnesty International has shown that that the legislation has made sex workers less safe.

Under its statutory obligation, the Department of Justice commissioned a review which began in 2020 and was led by an Independent Expert. The terms of reference of the review state that it would be carried out within 3 months (subject to extension if necessary). In mid-2023, it emerged that at the same time as having been appointed to carry out the review, the Independent Expert had been assigned to another large piece of Government-commissioned research, the Study on Familicide and Domestic and Family Violence Death Reviews, which was published in May 2023.

Deputy Connolly said that the decision to have same the Independent Expert preside over two very important reviews, without an analysis of the increased burden on this individual, raises serious questions over the political will to complete this review on time.

Indeed, later in 2023 it emerged that the Independent Expert had discontinued her involvement in the review and had handed over all her documents and research to the Department of Justice. In response to a series of parliamentary questions by Deputy Connolly, the Department of Justice then confirmed that they were seeking expressions of interest for the replacement of the Independent Expert. In response to Deputy Connolly’s most recent parliamentary question on the matter, however, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee appears to have completely reversed her decision to carry out an independent review. Instead, she confirmed that the Data and Research Unit in the Department of Justice will now complete the review.

Deputy Connolly expressed serious concern that what began as an independent review of the legislation has now been taken over by Department of Justice, which will have serious consequences for the credibility of the final report. This review concerns a very vulnerable and marginalised group of people, who understandably have low levels of trust in State institutions. It is essential that the impact of the 2017 legislation on their lives is adequately and objectively examined.


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