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Last Updated: Friday, 2 June 2006, 03:52 GMT 04:52 UK
Urgent law to shut rape loophole
Silhouette of actress posing as rape victim
The Irish law on statutory rape was deemed unconstitutional
Legislation to close a loophole in statutory rape laws which could result in paedophiles being freed early is to be rushed through the Irish Parliament.

Last week, Supreme Court judges ruled the existing law was unconstitutional because it did not allow the defence of a genuine mistake about a girl's age.

The ruling led to the release from jail of a man who had sex with a 12-year-old girl after plying her with alcohol.

Opposition parties are expected to back the emergency legislation.

Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell
Justice Minister Michael McDowell came under pressure

Opposition politicians have called for the resignation of Justice Minister Michael McDowell over the affair.

They claim he should have known about the Supreme Court challenge and been better prepared for its eventual outcome.

Until last week's ruling, it was automatically a crime for a man to have sex with a girl under the age of 15, no matter what age he believed she was.

Following the ruling, legal experts quickly identified several further cases involving sex offenders currently behind bars who could be freed in the coming weeks.

Offence restored

The Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2006 will restore the offence of statutory rape and have a uniform age of consent for males and females of 17.

It will also update provisions contained in the 1935 legislation declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and offer more strict penalties in certain circumstances.

Mr McDowell said the draft legislation would "provide the best protection for our children".

"I'm confident that, when the dust settles, it will be shown that I acted with good authority, competence, honesty and truthfulness," he added.

Minister for Children Brian Lenihan added: "We've received the best legal advice, we applied all our collective minds to it at the cabinet table, and the outcome is the best solution to the unprecedented situation we were presented with."


SEE ALSO:
Paedophile 'may exploit loophole'
01 Jun 06 |  Northern Ireland
High Court frees 'child rapist'
30 May 06 |  Northern Ireland



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