Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 6, to delete lines 19 to 22 and substitute the following: “Summary proceedings: no time limit
7. Notwithstanding section 10(4) of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851, summary proceedings for an offence under this Act may be instituted at any time from the date on which the person against whom the offence was committed became aware of the offence.”.
This amendment relates to the time limit on summary proceedings. The Observatory on Violence against Women and the Victims’ Alliance were calling for a change to the two-year summary proceedings sunset clause. The Bill originally said that the Act may be instituted at any time "within 2 years from the date on which the offence was committed" and both the observatory and the Victims’ Alliance want this changed so that the two years would start when the person became aware of the offence, or should reasonably have become aware of the offence. I do not think that there should be any time limit because of the nature of these offences. Such offending material could be around for a long time before the person concerned becomes aware of it. Two years seems a ridiculously short and unacceptable amount of time. What if the person finds out years later that their images have been shared on sites or within groups? I am sure there could be many instances of images being shared without consent or knowledge and that the people in the photos may never know that their privacy has been breached in this way.
It seems unfair to put a time limit on when this Act may be instituted, especially given the hidden corners of the Internet, the boys' club sentiments in some circles and the misogyny displayed the world over. The Minister said on Committee Stage that the limit here is usually six months and that she has increased it to two years, but I think it should be increased further.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland has stated that it welcomes this proposed amendment and has urged that it be accepted. It has stated that in its respectful submission, the proposed removal of the existing two-year time limit would help to bring even more offences under this Bill within the reach of prosecution and, therefore, of accountability for perpetrators. Accordingly, it has welcomed the proposed amendment and has urged that it be accepted. The key thing is to open offenders to prosecution because that will have a cooling and chilling effect. What we want to achieve is for none of these images to be distributed in the first place. The only way we can do that is by having legislation with a strong enough chilling effect.
The nature of the Internet means that it is possible for images to be around for a long time before somebody becomes aware of them. We are not going to be trawling the Internet and looking for offending images. When someone becomes aware of an offence, it might be a long time since the image was circulated. That is why this amendment is necessary.