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Read the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's response to the Committee for Justice's Call for Evidence on Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill

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Response to Committee for Justice Call for Evidence on Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill

Last Updated: Monday, 27 September 2021

Date produced September 2021.

Below is a summary of the recommendations.

• the Committee ensure the proposed legislation complies with human rights standards including recognition of gender-based violence, using the UN CEDAW, UN CAT and Istanbul Convention as a framework.

• that the Committee for Justice asks the Department to continue to monitor relevant EU Directives and relating CJEU jurisprudence to ensure there is no diminution of victims’ rights in keeping with Article 2 of the Protocol.

• The NIHRC welcomes the creation of the offence of voyeurism in NI however, the Committee may wish to recommend as a minimum, equal protection for victims in NI to those in other UK jurisdictions.

• the Committee ensures that all recommendations of the review of the law on child sexual exploitation are implemented, as well as recommendations of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate NI report into child exploitation in NI, including developing an approach modelled on ‘Barnahus’ for children subjected to sexual violence.

• the Committee reconsider the proposed blanket approach to exclusion of the public from particular forms of criminal trials, rather than a case-by-case consideration of the merit of a closed hearing. The Commission recommends that the Committee consider the adoption of an individualised approach within a structured framework, which could include a judicial decision at the commencement of the trial. This should be accompanied by training for the judiciary on trauma-informed approaches and secondary victimisation.

• that the Department and Committee consider all recommendations of the Gillen Review and whether more can be included within the Bill.

• the Committee take into consideration the Criminal Justice Inspectorate NI report into modern slavery and human trafficking to ensure that provisions within the draft Bill meet the required recommendations.

• the Committee for Justice refer to the Commission’s response to the consultation on ‘Consent to Serious Harm for Sexual Gratification: Not a Defence’ to ensure this is implemented in a way that is compliant with human rights law.

• the Bill includes an amendment to introduce provision for image based sexual abuse, including for the threat of publication. The proposed legislation should ensure comprehensive consideration of human rights obligations including the disproportionate impact on women and girls, and recognise image based sexual abuse as a new form of gender-based violence.

• that the Committee ensure that any new legislation regarding the abuse of trust extends the definition outlined at Article 18 of the Lanzarote Convention to include other relationships of trust, i.e., that it does not just apply to children in state care.

• the Committee ask the Minister to indicate what consideration is being given to the reversal of the burden of proof and if the Department proposes bringing forward the necessary legislative changes to address this in the future.