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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 15:15 GMT
NI age of consent to be lowered
Houses of Parliament
Draft legislation has been laid before the Commons
The age of sexual consent in Northern Ireland is to be reduced to 16 to bring it in line with the rest of the UK.

The draft legislation was laid before the House of Commons on Tuesday.

It proposes a range of new laws aimed at protecting children; any sexual act with a child under 13 will automatically be treated as rape.

Currently, the maximum penalty for rape is life but that is being extended to include all serious sex offences. Kerb crawling will also become a crime.

That will be punishable by a fine.

The draft Sexual Offences NI Order 2007 will provide tough new legislation to strengthen protection against sexual crime.

The age of consent for sex in Northern Ireland has been 17 for more than 50 years - but from next April it will be reduced to 16.

Those who run a brothel could face a seven-year term

Criminal Justice Minister Paul Goggins said there was no compelling reason for the age to be different in Northern Ireland than elsewhere.

The move could meet opposition from some politicians, but other aspects of this new legislation are likely to be welcomed.

There will be a new offence of running a brothel, with a maximum sentence of seven years.

Mr Goggins said the legislation - due to be enacted by the Spring of next year after a 60-day consultation period - would modernise offences, remove antiquated laws and had at its core protection of the public.

The starting point had been the Sexual Offences Act introduced in England and Wales in 2003 and an endeavour to have consistency throughout the nation.

"The proposed legislation will strengthen protection for children and vulnerable groups against abuse and exploitation, and enable offenders, particularly abusive offenders, to be appropriately punished.

"Importantly the proposals will broaden the definition of rape, making evidential changes to, and give a statutory definition of, consent, to help juries reach decisions in the most difficult cases," he said.

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