Press release: Sex Worker’s Legal Challenge granted leave in High Court in Northern Ireland

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland welcomes the judgement today Friday September 23rd, in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast, to allow sex worker Laura Lee to proceed with her Judicial Review challenge of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. Lee’s legal team argued that the recent law passed in Northern Ireland which criminalizes the purchase of sex is an infringement on her human rights, her labour rights and her ability to keep herself safe in her work. The case will also challenge pre-existing brothel keeping legislation. This judgement means the case is allowed to progress further to a full hearing of all arguments.

Speaking from a meeting of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, SWAI Coordinator Kate McGrew said. “SWAI fully supports and commends Laura Lee in her legal fight. The Government here in the South is set to pass similar criminal proposals in Part IV of the Sexual Offences Bill. These proposals do not decriminalise workers as supporters of the Bill will claim. The vast majority of workers, those working together for safety, and the most vulnerable workers, those working on the street, remain criminalised and actually will face steeper penalties. SWAI opposes these proposals entirely, as it forces sex workers underground. It gives clients more bargaining power, as the clients’ protection from arrest becomes the priority for both parties. Laws like this force the transaction to happen in unfamiliar environments further away from authorities and support services, therefore giving impunity to perpetrators posing as clients, whilst enforcing criminal sanctions that prevent workers from safely accessing the justice system. We urge Governments North and South to actually speak to, listen and learn from the experiences of current sex workers before introducing any new laws or policies. Evidence based policy developed with sex workers is the only way to ensure the rights, safety and health of sex workers are protected”.

Luca Stevenson Coordinator of ICRSE said, “ICRSE supports any sex worker who takes the brave step to challenge criminal laws which are detrimental to their safety and rights. Laura Lee’s case challenges the Northern Irish Government on the basis of her human rights protected by European Law. This case therefore could have a wider impact on the rights of sex workers in other European States and we will be monitoring it closely. Our members across Europe face criminal laws likes these everyday, forcing them to work in unsafe conditions and put them at risk of violence and abuse. Governments need to accept that criminalising sex work is not working. Its hurting people”.