The controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is due to be considered further by the House of Lords today as it moves to the report stage. The proposed legislation will affect the whole of the United Kingdom.
Of relevance to abuse-related matters is the amendment of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to widen the definition of a person in a position of trust, to include roles with religious or sporting affiliations. This follows on from recommendations made by IICSA in this regard and accepted by many of the organisations which will be impacted.
s46 of the bill sets out that “further positions of trust” are defined as follows:
- For the purposes of sections 16 to 19 [of the Sexual Offences Act 2003] , a person (A) is in a position of trust in relation to another person (B) if –
- A coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs B, on a regular basis, in a sport or religion, and
- A knows that they coach, teach, train, supervise or instruct B, on a regular basis, in that sport or religion.
“Religion” is defined as such so that no belief in a god is required. “Sport” is defined as any game in which physical skill is the predominant factor and any form of physical recreation which is also engaged in for purposes of competition or display. Both of these definitions will no doubt in time be subject to debate about interpretation.
There is a clear intention to protect children from abuse by predatory adults where they have a degree of control over them, which must be welcomed. However in the event the bill becomes law, these changes could be fraught with difficulty, depending on how rigidly the courts apply them. Under other existing provisions of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 if the parties are in a pre-existing consensual relationship, then the position of trust provision falls away. Again, inevitably there will be some scenarios where this is not clear cut and will be open to debate.
There are a number of areas within the Bill which have been questioned including attempts to restrict an individual’s inalienable right to protest, even alone, and further powers to be afforded to the state in terms of access to data. The police will have the power to request data from educational, prison, and youth custody authorities about individuals, as well as from a “specified authority”, which encompasses local authorities, the NHS, other police forces, and the fire and rescue authority. The basis for this request is described as to enable or assist the police to “exercise its functions”.
The bill also includes legislation which may impact traveller communities, and potentially the homeless, and proposes increases in sentences for various crimes, and provisions as to the management of terrorists and sexual offenders.