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Teenagers to have voice on age of consent
Examiner 21/06/2006

by Noel Baker

Teenagers are to be consulted on the issue of the age f consent it was announced yesterday. Minister for Children Brian Lenihan made the announcement as he revealed the appointment of two legal experts who will help tackle the legal difficulties following last months controversial Supreme Court ruling.

Child law expert Geoffrey Shannon and Professor Finbarr McAuley of University College Dublin have been appointed for an initial three-year period and will monitor and audit legal developments aimed at strengthening child protection measures. Mr Shannon will specialise in areas of child sexual law, while Prof Mc Auley, who is also a member of the Law Reform Commission, will focus on Criminal Justice issues.

Operating independantly, the rapporteurs are answerable to the Oireachtas and are expected to publish their first annual report early next year. Mr Lenihan said the consultation with teenagers would most likely be through bodies like Dail na nOg and Comhairle na nOg and details had to be finalised regarding parental consent and the ages of those that will be canvassed for opinion. He said "it was very important that their voice is heard".

Teenagers are affected by this issue and have every right to have their views heard on it". While admitting monitoring law changes in other countries was important, the minister said serious consideration would be needed before bringing in proposals being considered in Britain, such as 'Megans law', where communities are notified if a registered sex offender moves into an area. "The rapporteurs can look at that and get good sound, balanced views on it", he said.

Prof Mc Auley said one of his first tasks would be to look at "minimising" situations where young sex assault victims could be cross examined in court - something that was prohibited under the 1935 Act. "I quite agree with Minister McDowell that one effect of the Supreme Court decision is to undo one of the good things associated with the old regime, namely that there would be no cross examination of the female party", he said.

Mr Shannon said he believed the rights of the child needed to be enshrined in the Constitution and that such a move would remove some of the roadblocks to a fair and proper system of child protection here. He said that it was vital that children were not "re-victimised" by the legal system. "We would hope that the Oireachtas would take our recommendations on board", he added.