New sexual offences legislation extends protections to victims

Date published: 15 March 2022

Justice Minister Naomi Long has welcomed the passing of the Final Stage of the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill today in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Justice Minister Naomi Long pictured

Minister Long said: “The delivery of this new legislation offers greater protections to vulnerable people in our communities and will make a significant difference to those who suffer abuse and exploitation.

“Since my appointment as Justice Minister, I have focused on ensuring that our laws offer the best protection they can to the most vulnerable in our society.

“This legislation, in conjunction with the significant new safeguards that I have already brought forward in this mandate in the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act 2021 and in the Protection from Stalking Bill, represents a coherent approach to address important gaps in our current legislation and breaks new ground in several critical areas.

“Importantly, each of the Bills, both individually and collectively contribute to the Executive’s wider approach of protecting women and girls, recognising that, unfortunately, most victims of these types of crimes tend to be female.”

The Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill has two core aims:

  • to enhance public safety by implementing certain elements of the Report of the Gillen review of serious sexual offence cases and from a review of the law on child sexual exploitation and sexual offences against children;  and
  • to improve services for victims of trafficking and exploitation. 

Naomi Long continued: “This Bill includes the creation of several new offences:  non-fatal strangulation, up-skirting and down blousing, cyber-flashing, and masquerading as a child online.  It also addresses a number of issues affecting the experiences of victims in the justice system, including the exclusion of the public from all serious sexual offence court hearings.

“It also closes gaps in the law that offenders try to exploit, by abolishing what is known as the rough sex defence and further tightening of legislation relating to the unwanted disclosure of private sexual images.”
“Where previously women and girls may have found it difficult to have their complaints in these areas taken seriously, I am confident that the Bill will give them greater protection from those who seek to blight lives through their offending behaviour.”

Notes to editors: 

1.  The Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill was introduced to the Assembly on 5 July 2021. 

2.  The Bill is made up of 4 Parts, with 31 clauses and 4 Schedules.

3.  The full list of provisions that were contained in the Bill at Introduction is as follows:

i.  Provisions arising from the Gillen review, which include;

  • exclusion of public from all serious sexual offence hearings;
  • anonymity for defendants pre-charge;
  • anonymity of complainants to continue after death; and
  • an increase in the penalty for breach of anonymity;

ii.  Provisions arising from the outcome of a review of the law on child sexual exploitation and sexual offences against children to;

  • replace legislative references to ‘child prostitution’ and ‘child pornography’;
  • include live streamed images in the definition of exploitation for sexual purposes; and
  • create a new offence of adults masquerading as children online.

iii.  Provisions to create a new offence of up skirting and down blousing;

iv.  Adjustments to include the offence of abduction of children in care to Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) arrangements:

v.  Adjustments to dis-apply time limits for complaints under Violent Offences Prevention Order (VOPO) arrangements; and

vi.  Amendments to modern slavery provisions in the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Act to extend support to victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and to remove the statutory requirement to produce an annual Modern Slavery Strategy;

4.  The list of new provisions that have been added to the Bill is as follows:

i.  An extension of the provisions arising from the Gillen review relating to exclusion of public from all serious sexual offence hearings to include the Court of Appeal;

ii.  An increase to the scope of the existing offences relating to abuse of position of trust of a child to include faith and sports settings; 

iii.  Extension of the scope of the existing offence of disclosure of private sexual photographs and films to bring threats to disclose within scope;

iv.  Abolition of the so called ‘rough sex’ defence; 

v.  The creation of a new offence of non-fatal strangulation; and

vi.  The creation of a new offence of cyber-flashing.

5.  Copies of the Bill and Explanatory Notes can be accessed at the Northern Ireland Assembly web-site at

6.  For media enquiries please contact DoJ Press Office by email: 

7.  Follow us on Twitter @Justice_NI

8.  The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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