By Gudrun Schultz

DUBLIN, Ireland, May 29, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Ireland’s Supreme Court struck down the nation’s statutory rape law as unconstitutional last week, leaving a legal void the Department of Justice is now scrambling to fill.

A provision in the law made sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 automatically considered rape, regardless of the circumstances. The Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional on the grounds it did not leave room for a genuine mistake, even if it were proven that a girl had lied about her age, reported the Irish Emigrant this morning.

The ruling resulted from a recent case of a man charged with four counts of statutory rape for having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He was 18 at the time; the girl told him she was 16.

Although the ruling accepted the man’s defence, the court did state that “the protection of young girls from engaging in consensual sex is a legitimate end to be pursued by appropriate means,” indicating the need for new legislation.

Multiple cases of statutory rape charges before the courts were thrown into question by the ruling, media reported last week. RTÉ news reported Friday on a 38-year old man convicted of the unlawful carnal knowledge of a 12-year-old girl, two years ago, who was expected to challenge his conviction in court this week. The Irish Times reported Saturday on several cases, including a 26-year-old man who was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea of having sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Rape support groups expressed outrage over the ruling, saying it would give a “green light” to child sex offenders. A spokeswoman for the Rape Crisis Network said the new laws could strengthen the protection of children, however, by including young boys in the legislation, a group left largely unprotected by the 1935 law, reported the Emigrant.

New laws closing the temporary legal gap are expected to be in place within two weeks.