Thursday, June 01, 2006

Irish Law On Underage Sex 'Unconstitutional'

A high court judge has overturned the conviction of a man who admitted to having sex with a 12-year-old girl, citing a decision by Ireland's highest court that ruled the law on underage sex unconstitutional. The verdict provoked angry exchanges in Ireland's parliament, where Prime Minister Bertie Ahern rebuffed accusations of incompetence and said the government would appeal. The 41-year-old man, identified only as "Mr A", had received a three-year prison term after he pleaded guilty in 2004 to having sex with the girl after plying her with alcoholic drinks in May 2002. Justice Mary Laffoy ruled his conviction "a nullity".He left the building with a coat over his head to avoid being photographed. His lawyers had sought to have his conviction quashed after the Supreme Court last week overturned a 1935 law that made it an indefensible crime for any man to have sex with a girl under the age of 15. The supreme court judges said the law was unconstitutional because the accused should be free to argue in court that he did not know the girl's age. Legal experts identified six other cases involving sex offenders still behind bars who could be freed in coming weeks. One, in his 60s, is serving four life sentences for having sex with girls aged six, eight and 10. Ahern's cabinet spent several hours discussing emergency legislation to plug the gap in the law.