Belfast Telegraph

Assembly respondent in sex worker's bid to annul prostitution law

By Alan Erwin

A sex worker's bid to overturn a new law criminalising 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 Assembly following arguments that it is the proper body to respond to Laura Lee's unprecedented legal action.

Adjourning the case, Mr Justice Maguire said yesterday: "It's necessary to consider these points and make sure we get it right before we set off."

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 MLA Lord Morrow.

Northern Ireland is currently the only UK region to make the purchase of sex a criminal offence.

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.

They also allege a failure to comply with equality law. At present the challenge is directed against the Department of Justice - even though it opposed the new legislative clause.

Last month it emerged that Stormont's First and Deputy First Ministers 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.

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

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