Sunday 26 May 2019

Romeo and Juliet sex law is unfair, court told

The boy claims his right to equal treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights is being breached

Dearbhail McDonald and Tim Healy

A TEENAGER faces a jail sentence of up to five years because of a 'Romeo and Juliet' law criminalising boys who have sex with underage girls.

Lawyers for an 18-year-old teenager, who allegedly had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 15, yesterday described the law as "nakedly gender-based legislation".

They told the High Court that an emergency law introduced by the Government in the wake of the 2006 statutory rape crisis is "crude and old-fashioned" gender-based discrimination.

The 18-year-old has brought a constitutional challenge claiming his rights have been breached because he has been charged with unlawful carnal knowledge and with committing buggery while the girl has not been charged.

The girl, he claims, cannot be found guilty of underage sex because of the law brought in three years ago following the Supreme Court decision in the controversial 'CC case'.

The criminal trial of the boy is on hold pending the outcome of his High Court application seeking to halt his prosecution.

The case, the latest challenge to Ireland's underage sex laws, is being brought against Ireland, the Attorney General and the DPP, all of whom deny the claims.

The boy claims his right to equal treatment under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights is being breached.

The case centres on the introduction in 2006 of legislation in response to the Supreme Court's controversial CC case decision.

The court found that a 1935 law on underage sex was found unconstitutional because an accused could not say, in his defence, that he was mistaken as to the age of his alleged victim.

The Government was forced to introduce the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 in response to the public outcry that followed that ruling.

The act was introduced with immediate effect on June 2, 2006, and the boy at the centre of the so-called "Romeo and Juliet" action was charged with committing the offences against the girl on August 5, 2006.

Opening the case yesterday, Gerard Hogan SC, for the boy, said the charge against him amounted to having unlawful carnal knowledge which, on conviction, attracts a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.

Offence

The girl cannot be convicted of such a charge because the 2006 law provides that a female under 17 cannot be found guilty of such an offence.

Mr Hogan contended that the law was based on a "crude" traditional sexual stereotype and "a good old-fashioned example of gender-based discrimination".

He said the Oireachtas has justified its introduction on the "patronising view" that girls must be protected from boys who are the guilty parties.

Sheila Green, psychologist and professor of childhood research in TCD, told the court that studies have shown that there has been a major increase in consensual sex between under-17s.

Under cross-examination from Donal O'Donnell SC, for the State, Prof Green said there was a need for criminal sanction for adults having sex with underage children.

But while there needed to be a deterrent to children having consensual sex, she had a difficulty with it being made a crime.

The hearing before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne continues.

Irish Independent

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