16 March 2015
UK Government Proposed Extension of Wilful Neglect Law Not Enough
The UK Government has proposed a new law whereby the crime of ‘wilful neglect’ will be extended to individuals and organisations who fail to protect children from sexual abuse.
The suggested change in law, thought to be in response to the child abuse scandals in Rotherham and Oxfordshire, aims to help ensure that care workers do their job protecting children. This will mean that social workers, teachers, police officers and council workers could get up to five years in jail or unlimited fines if proven to have let children down by the extension of ‘wilful neglect’ crime by law.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have been actively campaigning for greater exploration of the laws surrounding child abuse for two years now. The proposed change in law does not go far enough. We would welcome mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse for professional care workers, backed up by criminal sanctions for failure to do so. It is a necessary change because many survivors of sexual abuse never come forward, many feel that the criminal justice system takes them for granted and even treats them with contempt.
Our mandatory reporting of child abuse campaign has just been adopted by the Labour Party’s Victims’ Taskforce, which was established to make improvements in how victims and witnesses are treated by the criminal justice system. A clear mandatory duty for those working with children to report suspected child abuse should help to prevent someone like Jimmy Savile being able to prey on vulnerable people for years without being reported.
The proposed “wilful neglect” offence is a step in the right direction, but in my view will not be very effective. Wilful neglect is a very difficult offence to prosecute and is unlikely to have covered all of the failures to report child sex abuse which we have seen in institutions over the last few decades. What we urgently need is a comprehensive mandatory reporting law, not with the aim of sending anyone to jail, but with the aim of changing culture. Responding properly to allegations of abuse must become normal practice. That way we can prevent a repeat of the appalling abuse scandals which have come to light in recent years.
Richard Scorer is the Head of the Abuse team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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