Press release

Child abuse loophole to be closed

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

A legal loophole that could allow those who physically abuse children or vulnerable adults to escape justice is to be closed.

There is already an offence (Section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004) which makes it a criminal offence to cause or allow the death of a child or vulnerable adult. It was used successfully to prosecute Baby P’s mother, boyfriend and lodger - where it was clear one of them caused Peter’s death, but police could not prove which of them was directly responsible. As a result they were all found guilty of causing or allowing his death.

However, causing serious physical harm, short of death, is not covered by this offence- meaning that those responsible could evade justice. That is why the Government has announced that it is backing Sir Paul Beresford’s Private Members’ Bill which will fill this gap in the law and help to ensure that some of the most vulnerable members of society are kept safe.

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said:

‘The Government intends to close the gap in the law which allows those who harm children and vulnerable adults to escape unpunished. We want to do everything possible to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are kept safe in their homes and those that abuse their power do not evade justice.
 
‘This is why we are giving Sir Paul Beresford’s Bill our backing.’

The new offence will be used in cases where a child or vulnerable adult is deliberately seriously harmed and it is clear that one of a closed group of people has inflicted the injuries, but there is not enough evidence to prove who is responsible. This loophole in the law has enabled those who injure a child or vulnerable adult to escape justice by remaining silent or by blaming or lying for each other.

CPS data suggests there were more than 20 cases in 2010 where children and vulnerable adults have been seriously injured - broken bones, brain injuries - while their attacker has walked free. This new legislation will stop this injustice.

Notes to editors

  1.  For more information, please contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 02033343528.

Case study

Below is information from the CPS regarding cases where children were seriously harmed but no successful prosecution could be brought. We believe the proposed new offence would have allowed the CPS to prosecute these cases.

No one has been charged with causing the injuries in these cases, which are believed to be non-accidental. 

The injuries inflicted on a two-week-old baby were:

Multiple fractures to left clavicle, left tibia, 6th, 7th, and 8th ribs; Multiple bruises to left side of the upper neck, left cheek;  left side of the face, left side of forehead;  upper and lower eyelid; Swelling/redness/ tenderness to the left clavicle region, lower leg; Haemangioma on the back of the head.

The injuries discovered to a six month old child were:

An arm fractured in two places, one is a displaced fracture; Fractured clavicle; and Two ribs fractured.

Facts and figures

  • Sir Paul Beresford’s Private Members’ Bill which would extend the existing offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult (in section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004) to cover cases of causing or allowing serious harm (equivalent to grievous bodily harm) to a child or vulnerable adult.
  • The committee stage of this Bill will take place today (Wednesday 22 June).
  • CPS data suggests there is a real gap in the law in serious injury cases.  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 proposed new offence.
  • Between 2005-2008, the existing offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult has seen 17 people successfully prosecuted.
  • To ensure that the maximum penalty for causing or allowing serious harm is proportionate when considered against both the maximum penalties for causing or allowing death and against other offences of serious harm, the Government is proposing a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.