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Sex worker's bid to overturn law criminalising clients put on hold

Sex worker Laura Lee arrives at Belfast High Court to challenge prostitution laws. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press
Staff Reporter

A SEX worker's bid to overturn a new law criminalizing clients in Northern Ireland has been put on hold amid uncertainty over who the challenge should be directed against.

Papers are now to be served on the Stormont Assembly following arguments that it is the proper body to respond to Laura Lee's unprecedented legal action.

Ms Lee, a 38-year-old Dublin-born law graduate, wants the High Court to quash legislation making it illegal for men to pay for prostitutes.

The amended law was introduced last year in a private member's bill brought before the Assembly by DUP peer and Stormont MLA Lord Morrow.

Although the law shifts the burden from prostitutes to their clients, sex workers believe it could leave more vulnerable to violence if the trade is driven underground. Ms Lee's legal team contend that the amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act breach her human rights entitlements to privacy and freedom from discrimination.

At present the challenge is directed against the Department of Justice - even though it opposed the new legislative clause.

Last month it emerged that the first and deputy first minister were to mount stronger opposition to the judicial review proceedings.

And Attorney General John Larkin QC was in court yesterday after being instructed by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness to resist the legal action.

But following preliminary legal discussions it emerged that the challenge may need to be focused elsewhere.

Even though the Department of Justice has responsibility for criminal law, the judge stressed how the amended legislation came about through a private member's bill.

He suggested that the case may have been taken against the wrong party.

Mr Justice Maguire then backed a submission by the Attorney General that papers should be served on the Assembly itself.

The case was adjourned for a further hearing next month to decide who should be involved in the case.

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