The legal loophole which allows parents co-accused of their child’s
murder to escape punishment by remaining silent or blaming each
other was closed last week as the Domestic Violence, Crime and
Victims Bill completed its passage in the House of Commons.
Clause 5 of the bill introduces a new offence of causing or
allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult. As a result,
someone who fails to take reasonable steps to protect a child or
vulnerable adult could be punished even if it can not be proven
they caused the death.
However, a last ditch attempt by Liberal Democrat MP David Heath to
encourage courts to take into account mitigating factors failed
when MPs rejected his amendment.
Heath had hoped to reinstate a section of the bill removed by MPs
during committee stage directing courts to take into account
whether those expected to protect others were themselves victims
of, or living in fear of, domestic violence.
Describing the committee’s removal of the section as a “huge
mistake”, Heath said there was “abundant evidence that a court will
not necessarily take such factors into consideration”.
“We in this House should indicate that we are not prepared to see
someone who is a victim made doubly a victim by being prosecuted
for an action that they were unable to resist because of the abuse
that they were suffering in the home,” he said.
But Home Office minister Paul Goggins insisted a person would not
be guilty of an offence unless they had failed to take the
necessary steps, given their circumstances. He said that accepting
the amendment would “undermine the reasonable steps test”.
The bill was due to return to the House of Lords this week.