Magistrates call for prostitution to be legalised in overhaul of sex laws

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The Independent Online

Licensed brothels and legalised prostitution should be introduced in a radical reform of sex laws, London magistrates will urge today.

Licensed brothels and legalised prostitution should be introduced in a radical reform of sex laws, London magistrates will urge today.

They will tell the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, that the court system has become clogged with cases involving prostitutes caught in a vicious circle of soliciting, fines and prison. "Current methods of regulating sex for money no longer have the support of the community and are thus ineffective and unenforcable," says the motion to be tabled by the Magistrates' Association at its annual conference in London.

The magistrates behind the proposal are angry that while they fine hundreds of prostitutes for soliciting every week, very few of their pimps are brought before the courts.

They also lose a significant amount of court time to "processing" prostitutes who regard fines as an "administrative tax" on their trade.

Roger Farrington and Christine Field, the two magistrates heading the move, believe that the laws governing prostitution were introduced to punish immorality but are now used to curb the nuisances associated with prostitutes. They should be changed to bring them in line with the values of modern society, they say.

A survey published last week showed that 48 per cent of the population thinks there is nothing wrong with paying for sex, while nearly one in 10 men admitted to having used a prostitute. Ms Field, a justice of the peace at Camberwell Green magistrates' court, said: "We now need a different focus to end the curb crawling, and target the pimps and try to go along with the model in the Netherlands where they have clean houses for prostitutes."

She said prostitution was a "profession, a habit or a custom" and needed to be dealt with as such by the law. "The system is counter-productive as these women simply accumulate fines," she said. Sending them to prison when they can't pay their fines or serving persistent offenders with anti-social behavioural orders was unacceptable, Ms Field said.

Residents of areas used by curb crawlers and prostitutes were also fed up with "condoms in the gutters".

She said that the Dutch and German method of licensing brothels and taxing prostitutes served as protection for the women and the public.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that a government study this year had looked at reforming the sexual offences legislation in England and Wales, and had recommended that the laws surrounding prostitution needed to be reviewed. But she said the Government had no plans to liberalise prostitution at the present time.