Minister Flanagan secures Government approval for amendments to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill
Government Amendment to add in new offence of “Upskirting”
Minister and officials working with the Bill’s original sponsor, Deputy Howlin to progress the Bill on a priority basis
1 May 2019
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has today secured Government approval to draft, on a priority basis, amendments to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017.
Speaking after Cabinet today, Minister Flanagan said:
“Today’s agreement by Government means that the Office of the Attorney General can begin drafting the Government amendments to the Bill on a priority basis so that we can advance it through the Oireachtas as soon as possible. I wish to acknowledge the work of the Law Reform Commission and the co-operation of Deputy Brendan Howlin, the sponsor of this Private Members’ Bill. Deputy Howlin has worked constructively with my Department officials and the Attorney General to ensure that this important Bill can progress.”
The Bill, which is based on a 2016 report by the Law Reform Commission, proposes a number of new offences, including taking and distributing intimate images without consent, online or digital harassment, a specific offence of stalking, an expanded offence with regard to sending threatening or indecent messages and also one which will deal with “revenge pornography”. The Government, on legal advice, agreed to make technical amendments to the Bill so that it is meets the standard for the creation of new criminal offences and is consistent with existing laws. Importantly, we are also proposing the creation of a new image-based offence – upskirting.
Speaking about the new offences created by the Bill, Minister Flanagan said today:
“It is essential that the law keeps pace with social change. Technology plays an increasing role in all of our lives and this legislation will address some of the heinous crimes that have emerged in recent times. The Bill proposes to introduce new offences to deal with the appalling recent phenomenon commonly known as “revenge pornography”; the taking and distribution of intimate images without consent, whether or not there is intent to cause harm or distress; and harassment to include all forms of communication including through online or digital communications or communications about another person. It also provides for a specific offence of stalking and the expansion of the existing offence of sending threatening or indecent messages. These actions have a profoundly distressing and long-lasting impact on the victims and it is right that they be subject to criminal sanction.
“The Government has afforded priority to this Bill, which I know will be welcomed by many civil society organisations supporting those affected by these crimes. With the co-operation of all members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, I hope that this legislation can be implemented as soon as possible.”
Note for Editors:
The Department of Justice and Equality had begun preliminary work on its own legislation in this area, following a report in 2016 by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety. However, the Government agreed to stop working on its own Bill and instead, accept Deputy Howlin’s Bill, which is based on the LRC’s recommendations.
The Bill provides for the main criminal law elements of the LRC Report and proposes new offences dealing with:
Non-consensual distribution of intimate images with intent to cause harm or distress (more commonly known as “revenge pornography”);
The taking and distribution of intimate images without consent, whether or not there is intent to cause harm or distress; and
Harassment to include all forms of communication including through online or digital communications or communications about another person.
The Bill also provides for:
The expansion of the existing offence of sending threatening or indecent messages to apply to all threatening, false indecent and obscene messages using any form of online communications.
A specific offence of stalking. Stalking-type behaviour is currently prosecuted under the offence of harassment contained in section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
The Government amendments will also provide for a separate offence to deal with another image based offence, ‘upskirting’.