or Sixteen All Round
TWO CABINET MINISTERS have promised two different correspondents in Northern Ireland that they will support the extension of any change in the (homosexual) age of consent to this region. They were Chris Smith, Secretary for State for Culture, the Media and Sport, (whose disinterested support we are glad to acknowledge), and Marjorie (‘Mo’) Molam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Her promise was that we would get an age of consent o f17. Dr. Molam repeated this offer to the Executive of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, whey they met her on December 18, 1997.
This is in line with the reply to a Parliamentary Question put by Kate Hoey MP (Labour, Vaux-hall), to Adam Ingram MP, a Minister of State at the NIO [Northern Ireland Office]. This written response (dated Thursday, July 24, 1997) was to the effect that the different age of consent was due to the recommendations of the Lynn Committee. It was passed into law in the Children and Young Persons Act of the Northern Ireland [Stormont] parliament in 1950: it is dated February 14, 1950.
This is ‘ on the face of it ‘ pretty conclusive, though it does indicate that this oddity (the differ-ential age of consent) is not some ancient enactment of he vassal Irish parliament. 1950 is quite a long time ago, but it is not ‘time immemorial’ (a legal term meaning before the reign of Richard II).
The Lynn Committee stated work on December 10, 1935, and produced its Report in 1938 (no specific date is given in the text). The title of the Report is The Protection And Welfare Of The Young And The Treatment Of Young Offenders, it is long, thorough, and well (even elegantly) written.
In Scope Of The Inquiry, section 1, the fourth (unnumbered) paragraph reads: “We have not attempted to define exactly in terms of age the expression “young” and “young offender”; but we have in general confined our inquiry to persons under 21, though we go beyond that limit in dealing with the treatment of Borstal inmateSeand young prisoners.”
In Recent Changes in the Law in England and Wales, Section 3, the second paragraph reads: “The differences between the existing law in England and WaleSeand in Northern Ireland are explained in detail in the succeeding sections of this Report. It is sufficient to note here that among more important changes brought about by the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, were the raising of the maximum age on the definition of “young person” from 16 to 17 years ””.
(An Act containing the same provisions was enacted for Scotland in 1934 ‘ NIGRA).
The Northern Ireland Children and Young Persons Act, 1950, (the languid pace of law-making is very striking), in its first section reads:
“It shall be no defence to a charge or indictment for an indecent assault on a child or young person under the age of sixteen to prove that he or she consented to the act of indecency” (Our emphasis ‘ NIGRA)
This is practically the first item one reads in the [Children and Young Persons] Act referred to by Mr. Ingram, and it is as near to being an age of consent as it is possible to get. (“Age of consent” is not a technical legal term; it is “journalese”).
The Act, like the Lynn Report itself, is very clearly written and thoroughgoing.
The age was changed by adding a Schedule to the Criminal Law Amendment Act [13 & 14 Geo. 5] (Northern Ireland), 1923.
It is obvious from the above, that for nearly seventeen years, the effective age of consent was lower in Northern Ireland than it was in the rest of the UK.
To ask for the same age of consent as the rest of the UK, it to ask for this region to return to the approach to the law and to law-making, which informed the deliberations of the Lynn Committee (an eminently respectable group of worthy citizens).
WHAT PRICE SEVENTEEN?
There is a further argument against the proposition put forward by the NIO. It is a piece of legislation enacted at Westminster by, (in effect), the Northern Ireland Office itself: The Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982. This was brought in as a result of NIGRA’s successful fight against the UK government at the European Court of Human Rights. (This was the ‘Dudgeon Case’, which revolved around Mr. Dudgeon’s right to privacy).
It was “made” on “27th October 1982” (it iSean Order In Council, usually wartime emergency legislation, but the normal method of making laws for this region since 1972 ‘ it was signed by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon).
A Schedule (to the Offences Against the Person Act (c. 100)), reads:
1. in section 61 for the words “shall be liable” onwards substitute – “shall be liable” –
(a) where the offence was committed with a boy who at the time of the commission of the offence was under the age of 16 years ””
The import of the above is that a ‘boy’ of 16 was deemed, in Northern Ireland, (but not in Britain (England and Wales) or in Scotland), to be capable of committing a crime: ‘ what price 17?
NIGRA (the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association)
PO Box 44,
Belfast B1 1SH
Fon:- Belfast 90 665257 / 90 664111
This hand-out was produced in 1999