Northern Ireland Secretary passes buck on rape clause

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has highlighted that Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has sidestepped serious concerns raised about the operation of the two child policy and rape clause in Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday, the campaigning MP challenged the Northern Ireland Office on the interaction between Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 and referrals under the rape clause, as existing law in Northern Ireland results in automatic disclosure of rape allegations directly to the police.

The following day, the Northern Ireland Office issued a written statement which passed responsibility to the devolved Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, despite there being no Minister for that department since the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in January 2017.

Speaking after the written statement was issued, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The Northern Ireland Secretary clearly wasn’t listening carefully to the criticisms of the rape clause from groups such as the Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation, doctors, nurses, social workers and midwives, that I highlighted to him in Parliament on Wednesday.

“It is beyond farcical that the UK Government has passed the buck to a non-existent Northern Ireland Assembly; the reality remains that women and third party professionals risk criminalisation if they do not disclose rape to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Women in Northern Ireland should not be forced to choose between struggling to put food on the table or going through the full process of the criminal justice system.

“Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office cannot hide behind devolution – the only way to remove the risk of criminalisation is to ask their colleagues in the DWP to scrap the pernicious and mediaeval two child policy and rape clause once and for all.”

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