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Defining Consent in Irish Sexual Offences Law: Unfinished Business

Criminal Justice in Ireland

Dr Susan Leahy

The introduction of a statutory definition of consent in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 represented a significant development of Irish sexual offences law, bringing it into conformity with that of other common law jurisdictions such as England and Wales and Canada. Section 48 of the 2017 Act amends the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990 to provide a two-tier definition of consent, beginning with a clear, positive statement of what constitutes a legally valid consent to sexual activity: ‘A person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act’. The second tier then gives further guidance on consent, providing a list of eight situations where consent will be deemed to be absent (e.g. where an individual submits as a result of the use or threat of force; where an individual is asleep or unconscious, or; where…

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