Repeal of law which criminalised sexual relationships for people with disabilities welcome step in fight for equality
A REPEAL of a law which made it a criminal offence for a person with an intellectual disability to engage in a sexual relationship is an important step in the fight for equality for people with disabilities.
The repeal of the outright ban on people with intellectual disabilities having romantic and sexual relationships has been welcomed by Rehab, one of the country’s largest disability charities.
The new legalisation repeals the previous blanket ban which prevented an individual having a sexual relationship with a person who has a mental health difficulty or an intellectual disability. The law comes into effect after Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald signed the commencement order for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017.
For the first time, Irish law considers whether a person with an intellectual disability has capacity to consent to a sexual relationship, rather than just outlawing such relationships because they have a disability.
Prior to this the legislation was deeply discriminatory and acted as an outright ban on romantic and sexual relationships for people with intellectual disabilities. It acted as a barrier to the fundamental right to marry and found a family, which is provided for under the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Now, a new category of ‘protected person’ has been created, which is defined as someone who lacks the capacity to consent to a sexual act by reason of a mental or intellectual disability, or a mental illness and is incapable of understanding, evaluating or communicating in relation to a sexual act.
It will now be illegal for a person to have a sexual relationship with a protected person.
Kathleen O’Meara, Rehab’s Director of Communications said: “This is an important step forward in opening up the law around sexual relationships for people with disabilities. The previous legislation often prevented people engaging in any type of romantic relationship.
“While, it is the case that this new law could have gone further to create a more disability neutral law, we believe this change in the law will provide greater opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities to assert their human right to marry and to found a family. It will also open access to essential sex education and sexual and reproductive health services for people with intellectual disabilities just like everyone else.”
Notes to the Editor
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 repeals Section 5 of Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 which outlawed sexual relationships with people with intellectual disabilities.
The new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, under Section 20, creates a new category of ‘protected person’. A ‘protected person’ is defined as someone who lacks capacity to consent because a mental or intellectual disability, or a mental illness, makes them incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act, of evaluating relevant information to make a decision about taking part in a sexual activity and of communicating his or her consent by speech, sign language or otherwise.
Section 21 of this new law also creates a category of ‘person in authority’ which is any person who is responsible for the education, supervision, training, treatment, care or welfare of a relevant person who is someone who has a mental or intellectual disability or mental illness which is of such a nature or degree as to severely restrict the ability of the person to guard himself or herself against serious exploitation.
The repeal of Section 5 of the 1993 Act and this reform of the law in relation to sexual relationships for people with intellectual disabilities is an important step towards Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in particular the achievement of the rights provided for under Article 23 – Respect for home and the family.
Rehab is a charity that champions the value of diversity and inclusion for people with a disability or disadvantage in their communities. Our mission is to help the people we serve to be more independent and to contribute to and be more included in their communities; empowering them with the skills and confidence to be active in the workforce, and supporting them to be in charge of their health and wellness. Over 20,000 people use Rehab’s services – children and adults with disability, people on the autism spectrum, people with mental health difficulties and people who are disadvantaged in some way in the labour market. More than 3,200 employees deliver Rehab’s services in over 170 locations in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Poland.