In November 2013, Sir Jim Paice took part in an inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation for tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK.
The inquiry, marking the tenth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, was convened by Sarah Champion MP.
Evidence was received from a wide range of organisations and individuals, including the NSPCC, the National Crime Agency and the Centre for Social Justice.
The final report will be published on Wednesday (April 2).
Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse, which can happen to boys and girls from any background or community.
It can range from seemingly ‘consensual’ relationships to informal exchanges of sex in order to get affection, accommodation or gifts, through to exploitation by gangs involved in serious, organised crime.
Barnardo’s has been working with children who have suffered or are at risk of sexual exploitation for 20 years.
In recent years, however, child sexual exploitation has become more high profile.
Media coverage of court cases has seen horrific stories of abuse and the failure of statutory services to protect victims capture the attention of the general public.
The Government has established a National Group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people to urgently address any missed opportunities to protect these groups.
In July 2013 it published a progress report and action plan, an update of which is expected to be published shortly.
Summary of Recommendations:
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 was deemed largely fit for purpose in respect of tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK.
The inquiry panel did not receive any compelling evidence which clearly made a case that justice cannot currently be served due to the lack of a specific offence.
Awareness of CSE is increasing and legislation is not necessarily the best mechanism to achieve such an objective.
The evidence did indicate, however, that existing offences could be used more effectively, with the decision about which offence to use based on the circumstances of the particular case.
A number of specific amendments to legislation were identified that would be beneficial.
The panel recommended that:
The police and Crown Prosecution Service should raise awareness of the different options for which offences to prosecute and their associated advantages and disadvantages
The police and Crown Prosecution Service should also promote that the lesser offences should be charged where appropriate before offending escalates and not be used simply as alternatives to more serious charges for the purposes of plea bargaining.
The Government should ensure training on use of the National Referral Mechanism for trafficking within the UK is delivered to relevant agencies.
It was further recommended that the Government amend legislation in order to strengthen Child Abduction Warning Notices by placing them on a statutory footing and create an offence of breaching the conditions of a notice.
In order to enable police to intervene earlier, the panel recommended that the Government amends s.15 (1)(a) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
There is no reason why a second contact should need to take place in the offence ‘meeting a child following sexual grooming’, particularly as combined with the other requirements of meeting or travelling to meet a child and the intention of abusing them, the threshold remains high.
The new prevention orders provided for in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Policing and Crime Bill have the potential to fill the legislative gap with regards to online grooming.
If, as expected, Sexual Harm Prevention Orders and Sexual Risk Orders become law, the panel recommended that the Government should:
· Ensure that the guidance issued by the Secretary of State, required by Bill, clarifies that online contact falls within the definition of ‘an act of a sexual nature’.
· Carry out a review of their use and effectiveness after twelve months of coming into force, in light of the limited use of existing civil prevention orders.
The panel recommended that the Government should progress the removal of all references of ‘child prostitution’ in legislation as soon as possible as this has a negative impact on attitudes toward CSE victims.
The panel recommended that no judge should be assigned to try a complex child sexual exploitation case without having received appropriate training.
The panel further recommended that all advocates working on sexual exploitation that involve minors should be required to undertake specialist training.
The panel recommended that the pan-legal training being developed is given the necessary support and resources to ensure that the training is widely used.
The inquiry recommended that the Ministry of Justice should explore, with relevant stakeholders, the development of materials, either written or filmed, to better inform jurors about the potential impact of CSE (addressing common myths and stereotypes).
The treatment of victims appearing as a witness along with the support provided before, during and after court, is vitally important.
This not only reduces the potential further trauma to already vulnerable children, but also serves the interests of justice by enabling witnesses to give their best evidence. The panel therefore recommended that:
· The Ministry of Justice includes a requirement for specialist provision for children and young people when nationally commissioning the court-based witness service.
· The Ministry of Justice makes rolling out pre-recorded cross-examination a priority (s. 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999). It should have the capacity for witnesses to give evidence from a location outside the court room where they would feel more comfortable.
· The Home Office should work with police representative bodies and voluntary organisations to produce a checklist to assist the police in communicating with children about their case.
· The CPS must ensure children’s wishes are sought and taken into account when applications for special measures are made and. Judges should check that this has happened at ground rules hearings.
The panel recommended that the Government should make, and continue to make, clear statements from the highest level to reinforce the expectation that where it is in order to protect a child, professionals must share information.
The panel recommended that the Government gives chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards the power to require local agencies to provide them with information, mirroring the power of the Children’s Commissioner for England, in order to aid local strategic work on tackling CSE and trafficking within the UK.
Given the strength of evidence which the panel received, it is clear that high quality age-appropriate sex and relationship education is vital in every school, even if it is not provided on a statutory basis.
The panel recommended that the new expert group established by Government to support teachers on the issue of PSHE must ensure a focus on prevention of CSE and ensure young people’s views on the content of resources are taken into account.
It should also be kept under review to ensure the evolving nature of the abuse, and in particular the role of technology, is incorporated.
For all the latest news see Thursday’s (April 3) Echo.