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Harris recommends cabinet not oppose drink spiking bill but says further consideration needed

A maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment could be applied under the Bill.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Simon Harris has recommended that the government not oppose an amendment that would make drink spiking a new offence, but added that the subject needs further consideration before the Bill becomes law. 

The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person (Spiking) (Amendment) Bill 2023 is currently at Second Stage in Seanad Éireann and was on the cabinet’s agenda today. 

The elements of the proposed new offence include that the perpetrator administers, injects or otherwise causes the victim to consume a substance without their consent, and that the perpetrator knows, or is reckless as to whether the victim consents.

The Bill also stipulates that the perpetrator intends for the substance to overpower or sedate the victim for the purposes of engaging in a sexual act, causing harm, making gain, causing loss or otherwise committing an offence against them. 

The Bill also provides for a defence to show that the substance was administered for a lawful reason or with a lawful excuse, or was with the other person’s express and conscious consent.

A maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment could be applied under the Bill. 

A general offence of poisoning, carrying a maximum sentence of three years, is already provided for in Irish law. 

Information Campaign 

In December 2021, Ministers McEntee and Harris launched an awareness campaign to combat spiking, in collaboration with the Union of Students in Ireland.

The campaign included information on how to tell if a drink has been spiked, acknowledging that most drugs used in this manner are tasteless, colourless and odourless, but that there may signs in a person’s behaviour or body language, and steps to take if a person suspects spiking has occurred.

Further Assessment

Minister Harris told the Cabinet he recognised that spiking is a serious offence that must be dealt with robustly. However, he added, it is not clear that issues arising are necessarily legislative ones.

Significant ongoing research is taking place in a number of jurisdictions, including the UK, in relation to the prevalence and issues arising in relation to spiking. This research, as well as input from stakeholders in Ireland, will inform further actions in this area.

Given that the Bill relates to a live area of policy consideration, Harris has proposed that the Bill not be opposed at this stage. However, it will be necessary to emphasise that further consideration will be required before the Bill progresses to Committee Stage.

Harris will seek a submission from the Director of Public Prosecutions and seek advice from the Attorney General in relation to this legislation. Harris said he would also seek the input of the Garda Commissioner on the matter.

Limited Data

Statistics related to spiking are particularly difficult to come by, but according to Garda PULSE records there were just over 70 reported incidents in 2021 and roughly the same number in 2022 (up to 21 September). 

These are likely an underrepresentation of the actual number of spiking incidents though, as many cases go unreported.

In a survey conducted earlier this year by CYD (Check Your Drink), an organisation that makes drink testing kits for the UK and Ireland, found that 19% of respondents said they had previously been spiked while 57% said they knew someone who had been a victim. 

 

- With additional reporting from Christina Finn 

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