Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Have DUP criminalised lap dancing?

Today there was Further Consideration Stage on the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill but there were some very loosely worded amendments from Lord Morrow to his own Bill.

I beg to move amendment No 5:
In page 9, line 13, at end insert
(1A) In the heading to Part 5, after "PROSTITUTION" insert "AND PAYING FOR SEXUAL SERVICES OF A PERSON".". The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:
No 6: In page 9, line 23, at end insert
"and A knows or believes that the payment is made or promised by a third party."
No 7: In page 9, line 26, leave out "level 3 on the standard scale" and insert "the statutory maximum".
 No 8: In page 9, line 29, leave out "not exceeding the statutory maximum". 
No 9: In page 9, line 33, after "services" insert "(other than sexual services)". 
No 10: In page 9, line 38, after "sexual" insert
; or(d) B touching B in a sexual manner for the sexual gratification of A, B being physically in A’s presence.".

The last of this is particularly vague. Something that Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson picked up on and asked:

If we are going to legislate as loosely as to say that person A commits an offence if they obtain sexual services from person B in exchange for payment and that this includes circumstances where person B does not touch person A but touches themselves for the sexual gratification of person A, would that not also make it an offence to, for example, watch lap dancers or strippers or purchase a strippergram or kissogram for a party? While many would regard such activities as morally questionable, I doubt that many think that they would be illegal. However, it appears that this amendment would make their purchase illegal. 
We could even go further: what about cases in which someone goes to see a play with sexually explicit scenes? Some people may go because they consider it art, but what about those who go to enjoy particular scenes for sexual gratification? If my reading of this amendment is correct, then when an actor or actress touches themselves in a sexual manner in the presence of an audience member who has paid to watch it for the purpose of sexual gratification, that audience member has technically committed an offence. For example, are we to have 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' banned from the stages of Northern Ireland once more? 
This highlights the type of problems which will inevitably arise when we try to use the term "sexual services" without a proper statutory definition. We simply cannot draw clear parameters of the offence. It might be useful to share an example from Canada, where the Supreme Court struck down its prostitution laws last December. A lawyer who was involved in the case said that: 
"I think it's both a key thing and an example of a bigger problem with the bill when the thing that's being regulated — it's described as sexual services, [but] the Bill doesn't contain a definition of what it is. That's a real vagueness problem." 
That Bill was not dissimilar to this one.

Instead of answering these concerns Lord Morrow simply said:

If there are some who, even after this debate, feel that they cannot support some of the amendments, that is a matter for them, but I urge them to rethink. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that, when I was dealing with amendment No 10, I spoke to the Attorney General. If someone can direct me to a higher court or a higher authority on these matters, I am ready to listen. If so, that person can tell me, "You shouldn't have gone there with it; you should've gone somewhere else". If so, I would like to hear from you; maybe you will come to me privately afterwards. 
First, the Attorney General is very clear that amendment No 10 will address the need to cover demand for the scenario where a person is exploited to provide sexual services in the form of the sexual touching of themselves observed by the client. Secondly, he is very clear that amendment No 10 will not criminalise lap dancing and stripping, as some have tried to insinuate here today. 
Mr Dickson said that the amendment would cover that type of activity and even watching films. I suspect that, no matter what I say, Mr Dickson will be of the same opinion when he walks out through the door today, because there is none as blind as those who will not see and there is none as deaf as those who will not hear. There are some who, no matter what I say today, have their minds made up that this measure will not be effective or that it will go into other territory. As I said, I cannot go anywhere else for advice, other than the channels through which I went. Amendment No 10, and I urge the House to consider it, is crucial.

It is shocking that an Attorney General can allow such loose terminology without definition to enter into law. But then the Northern Irish Attorney General has already shown that his understanding of the law is lacking in areas. So for him not to realise that judges and lawyers prefer to have a clear definition of the law, firstly so they can determine if it has been broken, second to consider if there is a case to be answered to.

But then for there to be concerns about the wording on an accelerated passage bill, in other words one that isn't getting that much scrutiny. So yet to amend at this stage when there is only an hour of consideration for this group of amendments shows that the DUP are slipping in loosely worded definitions into law without proper scrutiny or sane advise.

The interpretation is potentially wide and far outside the remit of the Bill. It is not clear where the boundary ends. The touching merely in the presence of someone else for sexual gratification. This is wishy washing and the DUP managed to get the UUP and SDLP to back it as horrifyingly it passed 52 votes to 35.

We live in times that moralists are narrowing the definition of what is allowed and too many people in Northern Ireland would be shocked to find just how loosely they are going about it, opening up a great many seemingly innocuous activities open to the vagueness of new law and the interpretation of the court.

As Stewart Dickson said and I'll add slightly "
I am not sure whether the consequences are simply not appreciated by the DUP[, UUP and SDLP] or whether it is trying to drag us back to a Victorian era in which we will all have to cover up our piano legs. 

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