Neighbours and relatives who fail to report child abuse face prison under proposals for a new criminal offence

Neighbours and relatives who fail to report their suspicion of child abuse could face seven years in prison under a new criminal offence recommended by the Law Commission in a draft bill published last week.
The Government has pledged to reform the law in this area because, as the Law Commission pointed out, almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of all investigations into non-accidental child deaths that conclude do not result in a prosecution. Of those cases that lead to a conviction, the Government’s law reform body reckoned that only a small proportion were for murder, manslaughter or grievous bodily harm. No fewer than three children under the age of ten years are killed or suffer serious injury each week. The commission described such statistics as “shocking”.
“The problem of how fairly and accurately to establish guilt for these most serious and stressing of crimes is pressing and difficult,” said Law Commissioner Judge Alan Wilkie QC. “We believe that the recommendations we are making will greatly assist the courts to achieve justice in these cases.” The proposed bill creates an offence punishable by a maximum of seven years imprisonment for those aged over 16 years who have responsibility for and is connected with a child, are “aware or ought to be aware that there is a real risk that an offence involving harm” might be committed, and fail to take reasonable steps to prevent such an offence when it is committed.
Under the existing law, if a child is killed in the presence of two carers and it is believed that one of them must be the killer they both go free unless there is evidence pointing to one. In such a ‘group’ situation, the commission says: “At least one of this group must have had responsibility for the child’s care at the time, or during the period within which the offence was committed.”