Sex worker launches legal challenge against Northern Ireland ban on paying for sex

The law change breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, the challenge will claim

Jon Stone
Monday 23 March 2015 17:24 GMT
A sex worker in a red-light district.
A sex worker in a red-light district. (AFP/Getty)

A sex worker has launched a legal challenge against Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of paying for sex.

The law, which comes into force on 1 June this year, is set to make Northern Ireland the only place in the UK where someone can be convicted of paying for sex.

Laura Lee, 37, who is based in Scotland, says she travels to Northern Ireland for work to see clients.

She argues that the law will drive the sex industry underground and make it less safe for workers.

“I am doing this because I believe that when two consenting adults have sex behind closed doors and if money changes hands then that is none of the state’s business. The law they have introduced has nothing to do with people being trafficked but simply on their, the DUP’s, moral abhorrence of paid sex,” she told the Guardian newspaper.

“I believe that after June 1st, sex workers’ lives in Northern Ireland will actually be harder and the industry will be pushed underground.”

The legal challenge will be launched in the high court in Belfast and lawyers will argue that the law breaches human rights.

If the challenge is unsuccessful at the local level the case will be taken further to the Supreme Court and ultimately the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The legal team working on the challenge will argue that the law infringes both the right to privacy and the right to life because of its impact on sex workers’ safety.

The bill including the law, which was mainly concerned with people trafficking, passed the Northern Ireland assembly by 81 votes to 10.

Writing for the Independent in 2013 and arguing against a similar proposal to bring in the ‘Swedish model’ of paying for sex work in Scotland, Ms Lee said:

“[Sex workers] made an informed choice to enter the industry and enjoy their work. I have visited a lot of the saunas in Edinburgh and spoken first hand to the women therein, and they are very angry that this proposal will deny them the choice to work of their own free will, and take away their independence not to mention their source of income.

The exchange of sexual services is legal in the UK but soliciting sex in a public place, running a collective or brothel, and pimping are illegal.

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