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Judge Overturns Underage Sex Conviction

May 31, 2006

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ A judge overturned the conviction Tuesday of a man who admitted 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 41-year-old man, who was 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. High Court Justice Mary Laffoy ruled his conviction ``a nullity″ and ordered guards to remove his handcuffs.

``Mr. A″ left Ireland’s Four Courts building with a coat over his head to avoid being photographed.

His lawyers had sought to have Mr. A’s 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 age 15. The Supreme Court judges said the law was unconstitutional because the accused man should have the freedom to argue in court that he didn’t know the girl’s age.

The verdict provoked angry exchanges in Ireland’s parliament, where Prime Minister Bertie Ahern rebuffed accusations of incompetence and said the government would appeal to the Supreme Court _ the same panel that triggered the controversy last week.

Ahern said that laws on rape remained valid, while a new law governing underage sex would be presented to lawmakers within weeks.

Legal experts said the Supreme Court decision effectively ruled illegal the incarceration of several hundred men who were convicted since the late 1930s of having sex with girls under the age of 15. They identified six other cases involving sex offenders still behind bars who could be freed in coming weeks. One of the men, in his 60s, is serving four life sentences for having sex with girls aged 6, 8 and 10.

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