People accused of seriously harming a child or vulnerable adult who say nothing or blame others will face up to 10 years in prison from Monday, the justice secretary announced today.
The change closes a legal loophole that meant those who said nothing or blamed others for the death of a child or vulnerable adult could be imprisoned, while those who did the same in cases where the victim was seriously injured faced no such penalty.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said the changes to the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2012 close “a terrible loophole which has, until now allowed people accused of seriously harming a child or vulnerable adult to escape unpunished”.
The Crown Prosecution Service estimates there were 20 abuse cases in 2010 where people faced no charges because of the loophole. The cases included one where a five-month-old baby suffered a brain haemorrhage and fractured skull.
The change was introduced in a private members’ bill tabled by Conservative backbencher Sir Paul Beresford, which was supported by the government.
He said: “After spending time with the Metropolitan Police I realised there were loopholes in the law that the government could close to protect children and vulnerable adults.
“This new legislation will ensure that fewer cases of abuse slip through the net and is another safeguard to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, called the change a “real victory for children”.
“Now adults can no longer inflict horrific injuries on children and get away with it by staying silent or blaming each other
“The new legislation provides a protective shield for children because those intending to harm them will know there is no longer an unpalatable legal ‘get out’,” he said.
Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, added: “Older people can be very vulnerable to abuse by those who claim to care, and it was clearly wrong that prosecutions could not be pursued unless the victim actually died.”
Guide to the impact of emotional and psychological abuse