The government has tabled amendments to the Serious Crime Bill to ensure the new duty is legislated for ahead of the dissolution of Parliament. The government will also include a measure to provide multi-agency statutory guidance for front line professionals.
The move follows a public consultation which sought views from a wide range of professionals, community groups, survivors and law enforcement on how a mandatory reporting duty could work and who it should apply to. A summary of responses to the consultation has also been published today.
The intention to introduce the measure was announced by the Prime Minister at the Girl Summit 2014, the first global summit to mobilise domestic and international efforts to end FGM within a generation.
Crime Prevention Minister Lynne Featherstone said:
FGM is a criminal offence and it is child abuse. It can cause extreme and lifelong physical and emotional suffering and we all have a responsibility to do all we can to put a stop to it.
We believe that introducing a mandatory duty will provide clarity for professionals and will give them the confidence to confront FGM. It will aid police investigations and increase the number of perpetrators caught and prosecuted.
It will also send a clear message to perpetrators that they will be held responsible for their actions and help prevent this appalling crime from happening.
The proposed mandatory duty will:
- Apply in cases of ‘known’ FGM - i.e. instances which are disclosed by the victim and/or are visually confirmed. This is in line with the majority of the consultation responses
- Be limited to victims under 18 - those responding to the consultation held differing views on whether the duty should be limited to under 18s, but a number highlighted concerns regarding extending the duty to adults, including the risk that this could deter women from seeking medical advice and assistance
- Apply to all regulated healthcare and social care professionals, and teachers
- Require reports to be made to the police within one month of initial disclosure/identification - depending on the circumstances of the case, this will not necessarily trigger automatic arrests; the police will then work with the relevant agencies to ensure an appropriate safeguarding response is put in place which places the interests of the child front and centre
- Failure to comply with the duty will be dealt with via existing disciplinary measures, which may include referral to the professional regulator and/or Disclosure and Barring Service as appropriate - this will ensure that all breaches are dealt with appropriately and in accordance with the specifics of the individual case and is in line with the approach favoured by the majority of respondents to the consultation
The new duty is one strand of a wide range of measures the government has taken to help stop FGM including updating multi-agency guidelines, introducing an NHS prevention programme and providing training for NHS staff, prosecutors and police.
The government is also bringing forward legislation to highlight parents’ and guardians’ liability for failing to prevent their child being subject to FGM.
The Serious Crime Bill also includes provisions to extend the reach of the extra-territorial offences in the FGM Act 2003 to habitual as well as permanent UK residents.
The introduction of a new civil protection order will protect victims and potential victims, as it will for example enable the civil courts to stop girls being taken abroad for FGM by ordering their passport to be surrendered. In addition, legislation is being brought forward to grant victims of FGM lifelong anonymity
On 5 December, the government launched a new specialist FGM Unit which works closely with affected communities and helps them to implement the new measures.
To get a clearer picture of the extent of FGM in the UK, all acute hospitals must now report about the prevalence of FGM each month, and the Home Office has part-funded a prevalence study to provide local areas with vital information needed to prioritise FGM.