Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition in Stormont justice committee

'Witnesses arrive thinking they are there to give expert evidence, but can end up putting their entire reputation on the line'

Grilled: Sex worker Laura Lee received a tough time from the justice committee

Recent hearings of the Stormont justice committee are starting to look like the Spanish Inquisition, or a Somali Islamic court.

All right, there are no burnings at the stake, beheadings or amputations in the Senate chamber, but there are still consequences for non-believers and non-conformists.

Witnesses arrive thinking that they are there to give expert evidence, but can end up putting their entire reputation on the line.

They are likely to be quizzed about their friends and associates, their private emails, if they are critical of the DUP and even their sex lives.

Graham Ellison, a Queen's academic conducting research into prostitution laws worldwide, found Paul Givan, the chair, brandishing an email in which he painted a critical picture of the DUP line on sexual morality to a Swedish academic, who had some dealings with the party.

A complaint to Queen's followed. The end result was to undermine Dr Ellison as a witness, put him on trial and make him suffer for expressing his strong views.

Laura Lee, a call girl who represents the International Union of Sex Workers, is, like Xaviera Hollander, the famous New York madam, a happy hooker.

She is no shrinking violet – not to mention being an intelligent woman with two degrees. But nothing in the sex industry prepared her for the venom she faced from the committee's moral majority.

Questions weren't confined to her view that the purchase of sex should not be criminalised and that people trafficking was best combated in co-operation with sex workers like herself.

She was asked how much she charged (£150 per hour). Committee members wondered aloud if she enjoyed it. She was pressed to say how much of a discount she gave to the disabled and when she said a third, the committee wondered why she wouldn't do it for nothing.

Afterwards, a complaint went to the tax authorities that she might not be declaring all these earnings, though it is not clear who sent it.

Today, it is the turn of the PSNI, represented by Drew Harris and Roy McComb. They will have to defend the police's publicly expressed view that Lord Morrow's Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill is misguided in several respects and that men purchasing sex can be a source of information on people trafficking.

What pressure will these senior detectives be put under? Who will they find has received a complaint about them if they don't manage to please the Grand Inquisitors?

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