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Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking Bill Passed.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023 has passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas today.

The Bill is seen as a major legislative step forward in ensuring that the justice system protects and supports all victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The Bill contains a number of important measures, including:

  1. Ensuring anonymity for victims in all trials for sexual offences.
  2. Extend the victim’s right to separate legal representation if they are being questioned about their previous sexual history.
  3. Ensure character evidence at a sentencing hearing for a person convicted of a sexual offence must be made on under oath or by way of affidavit.
  4. Ensure people subject to military law who commit specified sexual offences will be dealt with by An Garda Síochána and the civilian courts rather than by courts-martial.
  5. Put the new National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for human trafficking victims on a statutory footing.
  6. Clear the final obstacles to ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The Bill, once enacted, will ensure anonymity for victims in all trials for sexual offences and will offer them greater protection, as they engage with the justice system, by enshrining their right to separate legal representation if there is an application to question them over their previous sexual experience.

The victim’s right to separate legal representation if there is an application to question them about their previous sexual experience will be extended to include trials for sexual assault, which had not previously been covered under the legislation. The barrister who is assigned to represent the victim at the application will be allowed to continue to represent the victim at the questioning, if the application is granted.

The Bill also provides for the ‘vouching of character evidence in sexual offences cases. This will ensure that where a person has been convicted of a sexual offence, character references presented at sentencing will have to be made via oath or affidavit.

In addition, the new Bill also puts a revised National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in place for identification and support of victims of trafficking. This new approach will make it easier for victims of trafficking to come forward, be identified and access advice, accommodation and support.

Some victims of trafficking, because of interactions they may have had with law enforcement officials in other jurisdictions, have a perception that police cannot be trusted. This new approach acknowledges other state bodies, outside of An Garda Síochána, as well as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), have a role in identifying victims of human trafficking and referring them to the National Referral Mechanism.

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