Clergy and abuse of ‘Positions of Trust’ – Government response to IICSA recommendation

As explained in our blog Potential widening of legislation relating to ‘Positions of Trust’ in faith settings dated 19 September 2019, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is illegal for groups of professionals with a position of trust to be involved in sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old under their supervision.  Position of trust is a legal term that refers to certain roles and settings where an adult has regular and direct contact with children. The definition includes teachers, care workers, social workers, police officers, doctors, foster carers and youth justice staff.  However, there are many roles which are not legally defined as being positions of trust such as faith group leaders and sports coaches.

The IICSA report Anglican Church Case Studies: the Diocese of Chichester and their response to allegations against Peter Ball dated 9 May 2019 made the following recommendation:

Recommendation 3 – The government should amend Section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so as to include clergy within the definition of a position of trust.  This would criminalise under s16-s20 sexual activity between clergy and a person aged 16 to 18, over whom they exercise pastoral authority, involving the abuse of a position of trust.

On 31 October 2019 the Government provided a written response to IICSA’s recommendation as follows:

  • The criminal law already provides a number of protections to deal with non-consensual and unwanted sexual activity and abuse. These offences carry robust sentences to reflect the seriousness of such offending.
  • The Governments recognises there are deeply held concerns about those who might abuse their position of power over a 16 or 17 year old to pressure them into engaging in sexual activity. Its views is that such behaviour is likely to be caught by the robust laws already in place and it actively encourages anyone who feels they are a victim of sexual abuse to contact the Police.
  • The Government wants to ensure that existing offences are being used effectively to tackle this behaviour and that those working with young people understand their responsibilities and act appropriately.
  • The Ministry of Justice, working closely with colleagues across Government, has already taken forward a review of existing offences to ensure that they are working as effectively as possible and are clearly understood. As part of this review, they reached out to the Police and CPS to get their input into how the law is working in practice and how to raise awareness of the existing law and the protection it offers to young people.
  • Another key part of this review was their engagement with organisations that work with young people and represent their interests in order to understand their concerns, and also to ensure that the right measures are in place to protect young people from inappropriate behaviour. They held a number of roundtables with representatives across a wide range of sectors including representatives from faith groups.  They were vital to inform their thinking as they consider what, if any, actions they should take going forward.

The Ministry of Justice and the Government are considering the findings of the review and will announce next steps in due course.


Written by Catherine Davey, associate at BLM

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