Press release

Child abuse loophole closed

People accused of abusing children or vulnerable adults who try to escape justice will face up to 10 years.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


People accused of seriously abusing children or vulnerable adults who try to escape justice by staying silent or blaming someone else, will face up to 10 years in prison Ken Clarke announced today.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012, which comes into effect on Monday 2 July, extends the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult to causing or allowing serious physical harm, like inflicting brain damage or broken bones.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data on cases where children were seriously harmed but no successful prosecution could be brought include a five-month-old baby who suffered a brain hemorrhage and fractured skull and a two-week-old with a broken collar bone, ribs and leg.

The Act is the result of a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Sir Paul Beresford MP which the Government backed to ensure it became law.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

‘By making sure this Bill became law we have taken the opportunity to close a terrible loophole which has, until now, allowed people accused of seriously harming a child or vulnerable adult to escape unpunished

‘We want to do everything possible to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are kept safe in their homes, and those that abuse their power do not evade justice.

‘We are clear about our commitment to improving the help available for victims of crime, and this is just one of many steps that we are taking to ensure the most vulnerable, persistently targeted or seriously affected victims get better support.’

Sir Paul Beresford added:

‘After spending time with the Metropolitan Police I realised there were loopholes in the law that the Government could close to protect children and vulnerable adults.

‘This new legislation will ensure that fewer cases of abuse slip through the net and is another safeguard to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.’

**NSPCC Chief Executive, Andrew Flanagan said in support of the new law:
‘This change in the law is a real victory for children and has the potential to bring many more child abusers to justice.

‘We have campaigned for years to close this legal loophole so are delighted that after successfully changing the law in cases where children were killed this has finally been extended to also include those seriously injured. Now adults can no longer inflict horrific injuries on children and get away with it by staying silent or blaming each other.

‘This new legislation provides a protective shield for children because those intending to harm them will know there is no longer an unpalatable legal ‘get out’.

‘Sir Paul Beresford MP and Lord Laming who championed this cause are to be congratulated as is the Government for their commitment to making vulnerable children safer.’

Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said:  

‘The government is to be strongly congratulated for closing this loophole which has allowed too many people to escape the justice they deserve.  Older people can be very vulnerable to abuse by those who claim to care, and it was clearly wrong that prosecutions could not be pursued unless the victim actually died. We have raised these concerns for several years and it was an issue also addressed by the Law Commission review of Social Care legislation. The message needs to be clear, if you harm a vulnerable adult - or stand back and let it happen - there will be consequences.’

Notes to editors:

  1. For more information, please contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3528.
  2. The new offence will cover cases of causing or allowing serious physical harm (equivalent to grievous bodily harm) to a child or vulnerable adult.
  3. Chief Crown Prosecutors in six CPS areas identified 20 potential cases involving children and three involving vulnerable adults in 2010 which could not be prosecuted under existing legislation but which they believe could have been prosecuted under the new offence.
  4. Between 2005-2010, the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult has seen 31 people successfully prosecuted.
  5. The existing offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult is covered by section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.
Published 29 June 2012