Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Sex reform laws pass key hurdle

Young couple
Ministers said the bill was a historic opportunity for reform

New laws aiming to shake-up sex offences in Scotland have passed their first parliamentary hurdle.

The Sexual Offences Bill would modernise rape law, creating new offences on sexual conduct and redefine consent as "free agreement".

The legislation outlines plans to equalise at 16 the age of consent for girls and boys.

The plans will now go forward to the second stage of scrutiny at the Scottish Parliament.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told MSPs that changes to Scotland's rape laws offered an historic opportunity for reform.

"There is widespread agreement that the existing law in this area is unclear and derives from a time when attitudes were very different from today," he said.

"This Bill presents an historic opportunity to reform a complex patchwork of common law and statute, replacing it with a clear, robust legal framework which reflects the values of modern society."

Holyrood's Justice Committee backed the wider proposals, but some MSPs expressed concern the age at 16 could "criminalise" girls who had underage sex and get pregnant.

Ministers said young teenagers would continue to be dealt with outside the criminal courts.

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