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A guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 - Chapter 3

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3. Offences under Part 2 of the Act (Section 15-16)

In this chapter:

3.1 Paying for sexual services (Section 15)

3.2 Forced marriage (Section 16)


3.1 Paying for sexual services (Section 15)

Prior to the enactment of the Act, the provisions of Art 64A of the Sexual Offences (NI) Order 2008 criminalised payment for sexual services in Northern Ireland in specific circumstances. Those circumstances were that the party from whom sexual services were purchased had been subjected to exploitative conduct by a third party, in expectation of a gain by that third party from the transaction.

The offence was triable summarily only, and had a maximum sentence of £1000 fine.

The Act repeals Art 64A of the Sexual Offences (NI) Order 2008 and replaces it with the wider offence of paying for sexual services of a person.[1]

The new offence is committed when sexual services are obtained by payment or promise of payment, either by the persons receiving sexual services, or a third party. Payment includes the discharge of a debt or the provision of goods or services gratuitously or at a discount.

The maximum penalty for the new offence is increased, and the offence is now capable of being tried both summarily and on indictment. The respective maximum penalties are:

  1. 6 months imprisonment and/or £5000 fine, when tried summarily
  2. 1 year imprisonment and/or fine when tried on indictment

The offence came into force on 1st June 2015 following an awareness campaign conducted by the Department of Justice, as mandated by the Act.

  1. The Department has a further statutory obligation to carry out a review of the operation of these provisions after 1st June 2018 and to provide a report to the Northern Ireland Assembly on:
  2. The number of arrests and convictions in respect of this offence
  3. An assessment of the impact of the new offence on the safety and well-being of those concerned in the supply of sexual services
  4. The number of arrests and convictions in respect of human trafficking with a view to sexual exploitation/offences committed with intent to commit human trafficking with a view to sexual exploitation
  5. The Department’s assessment of the extent to which the new offence of paying a person for sexual services has reduced human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation

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3.2  Forced Marriage (Section 16)

Prior to passage of the Act, there was no specific provision for a criminal offence of forced marriage in Northern Ireland. There were civil remedies available to victims under The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Order 2007 and by virtue of the High Court’s inherent wardship jurisdiction[2]. The remedy available under The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Order 2007 is a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

Section 16 of the Act creates a new criminal offence of forced marriage[3] in Northern Ireland.

The offence is committed where a person uses violence, threats, or any other form of coercion, to cause another person to enter into a marriage and the person using the violence or threats, knows or ought to know that their conduct may cause the other person to enter into marriage without free and full consent.

The offence can be committed where violence or threats are used against someone other than the person entering into the marriage. It is irrelevant whether the marriage ceremony is legally binding in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.

The offence is also capable of being committed by any conduct designed to cause a person lacking mental capacity to enter into marriage, whether or not that conduct is violent, threatening or amounts to coercion.

A further offence of practicing deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the UK to be subjected to forced marriage is created under section 16(5) of the Act. This applies where there is an intention on the part of the party practising the deception that the person being induced to travel outside the UK will be subjected to forced marriage outside the UK.

The offences under section 16 apply, if at the time of conduct or deception, either the victim or perpetrator is:

  1. In Northern Ireland; or
  2. Habitually resident in Northern Ireland; or
  3. A UK national

The maximum sentences for the offences created under section 16 are:

  1. 6 months imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine if tried summarily
  2. 7 years imprisonment if tried on indictment

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[1] Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to introduce a general prohibition on payment for sexual services. The position in England and Wales remains as it was prior to the passage of the Act in Northern Ireland i.e. the Sexual Offences Act 2003 criminalises payment for the sexual services of person subjected to exploitative conduct.

[2] See G and D (Risk of forced marriage: Forced marriage protection order) [2010] NI Fam 6, for discussion of these.

[3] See section 121 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 for equivalent provisions in relation to forced marriage in England and Wales


© Law Centre (NI) 2017

Disclaimer - Although every effort is made to ensure the information in Law Centre publications is accurate, we cannot be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences. The information should not be treated as a complete and authoritative statement of the law.

Law Centre (NI) only operates within Northern Ireland and the information in this document is only relevant to Northern Ireland law.

When reading Law Centre documents, please pay attention to their date of publication as legislation may have changed since they were published.

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