Behind the headlines

Two new offences may be created to close a loophole in the law
that can allow child killers to get off with relatively light
sentences. Home Office minister Paul Goggins has promised
legislation following a Law Commission report that recommended
legal reforms to stop parents and carers who kill their children
escaping murder convictions. This sometimes happens when neither
carer will say which of them delivered the fatal blow, leading to
convictions for child cruelty with a shorter sentence than would
have been the case for manslaughter or murder. The two new offences
put forward by the Law Commission are killing by cruelty, with a
maximum 14-year sentence, and failure to protect a child, which
would carry a seven-year penalty. Supporting the proposals, shadow
health minister Tim Loughton said there was a gap in the law that
amounted to “adults getting away with murder”.   

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“This is a welcome and long overdue closing of a legal loophole
which amounted to child murder being condoned by the state. Between
one and two children and young people die every week in the home
because of abuse or neglect by their parents or carers. We live in
a society high on rhetoric about the care and protection of our
youngest citizens, but low, very low, on affording them the same
legal and moral rights to respect and physical integrity as
afforded to adults. This legal remedy is one small step in the
right direction.”

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Centre for
Health Services Management, University of Birmingham

“Accurately and fairly establishing guilt in such cases is complex,
but it is hard to disagree with the recommendations of the Law
Commission. It is important that the sweeping changes being
proposed to organisational arrangements and professional practice
are matched by appropriate changes to the law. David Blunkett needs
to fight hard to get space for this proposal passed and

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“This move is long, long overdue and could at last put some
confidence back into the system that as a society we are serious
about taking action. It should also have a serious impact on
supporting social workers and others in their judgements and to be
really clear about which parent is safe in future. Frequently, the
issue is less about who cast the final blow and more about the
responsibility of both parents and this will help in those
situations. I sincerely hope we can now make progress.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“Action to close this loophole is long overdue. I commend the Law
Commission on their recommendations. The proposed new offences make
sense and, while no doubt alternatives could be devised, the
important thing is to act now. This is about the rights of children
to be safe and to be protected by adults. Maximum sentences are
just that and it allows judges to exercise appropriate discretion
in individual cases. If just one parent or carer feels constrained
to act to blow the whistle it will have been worth it.”

Bob Holman, community worker at a project in Easterhouse,

“In general I agree with the Law Commission’s proposals. But I
would really want the second proposal, for a new offence of failure
to protect the child, to be given more prominence. It would ensure
that the person wasn’t given a very long sentence where there was
only a failure to protect. It is better to give a lower sentence
even if that does occasionally mean someone getting off more
lightly than they deserved, rather than impose an unjust sentence
on someone whose crime wasn’t serious enough to have merited

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