For example, it brings it into line with EU directives on child sexual exploitation and abuse and other international obligations we have. There are, however - I want to acknowledge this clearly - provisions which are absent from the Bill which were approved for inclusion, most notably to replace section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 on the protection of mentally impaired persons, as well as to amend and update the Sex Offenders Act 2001. These are not matters which have been discarded, far from it. The repeal of section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 was the subject of a Bill brought forward by Senator Katherine Zappone last year. As I acknowledged when we debated that Bill, section 5, titled the protection of mentally impaired persons, is of its time and should be repealed. It fails to facilitate the full participation in society of disabled persons and the full expression of their human rights. Achieving the necessary balance between these rights and ensuring appropriate protection is crucial. However, I can assure the House and, in particular, Senator Katherine Zappone, that I will bring forward amendments in this House to the Bill to address section 5.
In relation to the amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 2001, the drafting of these provisions is also continuing. Legal issues which arose during drafting, as well as the need to update the provisions to reflect operational advancements, have been the primary cause of delay. However, many of these matters have now been resolved. It is my intention that these provisions will be brought forward in separate legislation to amend the 2001 Act. I assure the House that bringing forward the amendments to the 2001 Act is an absolute priority.
Given the wide-ranging nature of this Bill, it is not possible to outline every aspect and detail, but I am confident that the provisions will be thoroughly considered during the further discussions today and on later Stages.
The provisions contained in Part 2 of the Bill which address the sexual exploitation of children are among the most important criminal law provisions to be brought forward. We must take every step possible to combat and target those who engage in the sexual exploitation of children and in those activities which support and promote the sexual exploitation of children. While we already have significant legislation in place to target those who prey on children, the provisions in Part 2 are a further step. Contained in this Part are measures which strengthen existing law in the area of child pornography, as well as new offences which target child sexual grooming which focus on those who use modern technologies to engage with children with the purpose ultimately of sexually exploiting them.
Section 3 provides for an offence of obtaining or providing a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This builds on the existing offence of sexual exploitation under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. In terms of paying a child or another person for the purpose of sexually exploiting a child, the provision is clear that such will include "any other form of remuneration or consideration" other than monetary. For example, the giving of a computer game to a child will fall under the provisions of this section. It also criminalises offering a child or obtaining a child without reference to monetary or other form of remuneration. In order to target at the earliest possible point any intention to exploit a child, it is important that the law set out in detail those initial acts or steps which a predator may take to gain access to a child. What constitutes sexual exploitation is defined in section 2 and includes engaging a child in prostitution or child pornography, the commission of a sexual offence against the child or causing another person to commit such an offence. In line with the offence of sexual exploitation under the 1998 Act and the requirements of an EU directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, the offences targeting these pre-emptive steps to the exploitation of children apply to children up to the age of 18 years.
Section 4 closes a possible gap in existing law in the sexual assault of children. Under the law, as it stands, a child under the age of 15 years cannot consent to an act which, without consent, would amount to sexual assault. While the touching of a child will amount to sexual assault, the section clarifies that a person who invites a child to touch them or another person is committing an offence. The penalty of up to 14 years is the same as that for sexual assault.
Sections 5 to 8, inclusive, provide for offences connected with the sexual grooming of children. Sections 5 and 6 provide for offences relating to sexual activity in the presence of a child or causing a child to watch sexual activity.
Familiarising children with such activity or material can take place during the early stages of the predatory process, leading to more serious forms of child sexual exploitation.
Section 7 provides for an offence which targets the point at which initial contact has been made with a child by a person intent on the sexual exploitation of that child. The offence arises where the person then meets the child or makes arrangements to meet him or her. Again, this targets activity prior to actual exploitation of a child.
Section 8 contains two new offences addressing the use of modern communication technologies in the grooming and exploitation of children. Modern communication technologies and social media generally are incredibly useful tools for everyone. However, children and young people, in particular, are vulnerable to unwanted and seemingly innocuous contact from those who may prey on them. The offence under this section is an acknowledgement of that risk. It criminalises the initial stages of grooming where communication via, for instance, the Internet is the first step in facilitating the sexual exploitation of children. Section 8 offers further protection to children from unwanted advances by including an offence of sending sexually explicit material to a child by mobile or Internet communication. The seriousness of these offences is reflected in the potential penalties which may be imposed of between ten and 14 years.
Sections 9 to 14, inclusive, amend the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. There are already significant offences under Irish law relating to child abuse material or child pornography as defined under the 1998 Act and the provisions in the Bill strengthen these provisions. In terms of new offences, recruiting or causing a child to participate in a pornographic performance is now a specific offence, as is attending a live pornographic performance, including viewing such by means of information and communication technology. We are hearing more and more disturbing reports of the international exploitation of children and children being made available for sexual exploitation that is being recorded and viewed around the world.
I also draw attention to the provisions in sections 16 and 17 which provide for offences of a sexual act with a child below the ages of 15 and 17 years, respectively. These offences replace the existing defilement offences under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. There are two notable amendments to the existing offences. First, there is a change in relation to the defence of "mistake as to age". Under the 2006 Act, an accused could rely on a defence of honest belief as to the age of the complainant. This is a subjective test requiring the accused to prove that he or she honestly believed that the other party had reached the specified age. Under this Bill, the defence will be one of reasonable mistake as to the age of the complainant. This is an objective test under which the court shall consider whether in the circumstances of the case, a reasonable person would have concluded that the child had attained the required age.
The second issue I would like to highlight is the recognition in the Bill of under age, consensual, peer relationships through the introduction of a "proximity of age" defence. Under this provision, a person charged with an offence of engaging in a sexual act with a person between the ages of 15 and 17 years can rely on a defence where the act is consensual, non-exploitative and the age difference is no more than two years.
Part 3 of the Bill deals with the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services. I will return to this Part shortly but would first like to outline some of the main provisions contained in the other parts of the Bill.
Part 4 of the Bill modernises and restates the law in relation to incest. It corrects a gender anomaly with regard to the penalties for an offence of incest by a male and incest by a female. At present, incest by a male is punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, whereas incest by a female is punishable by a maximum sentence of up to seven years imprisonment. Under this Part, both offences will be subject to penalties of up to life imprisonment.
Part 5 of the Bill provides for a number of amendments to the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 designed to support and protect victims of sexual offences during the criminal trial process. Measures to further protect child victims of sexual offences from any additional trauma during the giving of evidence include giving evidence from behind a screen. Provision is also included preventing a person accused of a sexual offence from personally cross-examining a person under the age of 14 years, unless the interests of justice require such cross-examination. A court may also direct that an accused may not personally cross-examine a child between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Safeguards to protect the rights of the accused to a fair trial are included, such as directing the jury that no inferences may be drawn from the fact that an accused has been prevented from conducting such a cross-examination.
A further provision in this Part which I would like to highlight and which I mentioned is the provision under section 33 on the disclosure of third party records in certain trials. The appropriateness of the disclosure of such records will be the subject of a pre-trial hearing and any disclosure will, while respecting the rights of an accused to a fair trial, take account of the right of a victim of a sexual offence to privacy. Only records, or parts thereof, which are likely to be relevant to an issue at trial and which are necessary for the accused to defend the charges against him or her should be disclosed.
Part 6 of the Bill deals with amendments to existing jurisdiction legislation to include new offences created under the Bill to enable the prosecution of offences committed against children outside the State by citizens of the State or by persons ordinarily resident in Ireland.
I draw attention to two provisions in Part 7 of the Bill. Section 39 contains an offence of exposure and offensive conduct of a sexual nature. The existing offence of public indecency has been struck down by the courts on the grounds of vagueness and the new offences contained in section 39 clarify the acts and activities which give rise to an offence.
Section 40 introduces harassment orders whereby a court can impose an order prohibiting a convicted sex offender from contacting or approaching his or her victim for a specified period. The order can be imposed at the time of sentence or at any time prior to the offender's release. The order may be imposed where the court is satisfied that the offender has behaved in such a way as to give rise to a well founded fear that the victim may be subject to harassment or unwanted contact by the offender such as would give rise to fear, distress or alarm or amount to intimidation.
I think the House will agree that the provisions of the Bill are a significant step forward in targeting those who would abuse children, as well as offering some further protection to victims of sexual offences.
Returning to Part 3 of the Bill, this Part contains two sections providing for the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services. This is a matter which has already been the subject of considerable debate both inside and outside the Houses and beyond the State. The two offences contained in the Bill, the first a general offence of paying to engage in sexual activity with a prostitute and, the second, the more serious offence of paying to engage in sexual activity with a trafficked person, are the result of considerable and extensive public consultation by my Department but, primarily, by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which recommended similar proposals in 2013.