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Sex worker to launch legal challenge against NI prostitution ban
A sex worker is using European human rights legislation to try to overturn a new law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to pay for prostitutes. Dublin-born law graduate Laura Lee is launching an unprecedented legal challenge that could go all the way to Strasbourg, against a human trafficking bill which includes banning the payment for sex among consenting adults.

The region is the only part of the UK where people can be convicted of paying for sex. The law, which was championed by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont assembly member Lord Morrow, comes into effect on 1 June. Lee told the Guardian she will launch her case at the high court in Belfast in the same month as the law comes into effect.

The justice minister, David Ford, has already warned that the Police Service of Northern Ireland may not be able to convict men contacting prostitutes for sex because intercept evidence from clients’ mobile phones would be inadmissible in the courts.

Lee, 37, said: “I am doing this because I believe that when two consenting adults have sex behind closed doors and if money changes hands then that is none of the state’s business. The law they have introduced has nothing to do with people being trafficked but simply on their, the DUP’s, moral abhorrence of paid sex. I believe that after June 1st, sex workers’ lives in Northern Ireland will actually be harder and the industry will be pushed underground.”

Lee, who lives in Edinburgh but travels to Belfast and Dublin to see clients, said her legal team would be referencing several articles of the European convention on human rights to challenge and overturn Morrow’s law.

“First of all we will need to exhaust domestic remedies starting in the Belfast high court, possibly going to the supreme court, the House of Lords and eventually the European court of human rights. There are several articles that we can look starting with article 8 that governs the right to privacy. We will also focus on article 2 that concerns the right to life and we will argue that this law puts sex workers’ safety by the fact the legislation will drive the trade further and further underground. And then article 3 is about protection from degrading treatment, which is very relevant because in Scotland police have been subjecting sex workers to terrible things such as strip searching on women working in Edinburgh saunas. Our legal team will also refer to the right to earn a living enshrined in the European social charter.”

Lee said she will fund the case partly via crowdfunding on social media networks and from sex worker campaign groups across the world.

Lee, an Irish psychology graduate whose range of services include S&M and bondage, said she was also taking the legal challenge to thwart an attempt to introduce a similar law criminalising the consumers of sex in the Irish Republic.

An alliance of radical feminist groups and a number of nuns from Catholic religious orders are lobbying southern Irish political parties to pass a Nordic-style law outlawing the purchase of sex.

“This case hopefully will put a big dent in the campaign to bring in this law across the border in the Republic. There is a massive propaganda campaign to claim that north and south in Ireland sex workers are women who are trafficked into the country. This is total nonsense. In 2014 there wasn’t a single arrest in connection with sex trafficking in Northern Ireland. The majority of sex workers like myself are independent and 70% are single mothers trying to earn a living in these hard times. No one has the right to take that option away from them,” she said.

Morrow defended his bill and criticised any move via the courts to overturn the legislation.

“If Europe or any other court did this they would be ignoring the will of the people and the overwhelming majority of those in the Northern Ireland Assembly,” he said.

In October the Stormont assembly voted by 81 votes to 10 which in article 6 of Morrow’s anti-trafficking bill banned payment for sex.

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