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|Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill|
These notes refer to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill
1. These explanatory notes relate to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill as brought from the House of Commons on 29th February 2000. They have been prepared by the Home Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.
2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.
3. The Bill makes three changes to the law on sexual offences. First, it reduces the minimum age at which a person, whether male or female, may lawfully consent to buggery (an offence which does not exist in Scotland) and certain homosexual acts. This reduction is from 18 to 16 in England and Wales and Scotland, and from 18 to 17 in Northern Ireland. This will equalise the age of consent for sexual activity so that it is the same for male homosexuals as for heterosexuals and lesbians ie 16 in England, Wales and Scotland and 17 in Northern Ireland. Second, in all jurisdictions, a person under the age of consent will no longer commit an offence themselves if they engage in buggery (not Scotland) or certain homosexual acts with a person over the age of consent.
4. Third, the Bill introduces a new offence where a person aged 18 or over has sexual intercourse or engages in any other sexual activity with or directed towards a person under that age, if the person aged 18 or over is in a position of trust in relation to the younger person in circumstances specified in the Bill. A person convicted of such an offence, unless they are under 20 years old, will be subject to the notification requirements under the Sex Offenders Act 1997. Any person convicted of the offence may also be made the subject of an "extended sentence" by the court.
Age of consent
5. The age at which a person could lawfully consent to homosexual acts and to buggery (not Scotland) was reduced from 21 to 18 by virtue of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. On 22nd June 1998, in accordance with an agreement reached in the cases before the European Court of Human Rights of Sutherland and Morris, the House of Commons was given the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the then Crime and Disorder Bill to reduce the age of consent for buggery and homosexual acts to 16. The amendment on the age of consent was passed in the House of Commons on a free vote but rejected by the House of Lords on 22nd July. In the subsequent debate in the House of Commons on 28th July the Home Secretary announced that legislation dealing with the age of consent would be introduced in the 1998-99 session (Hansard col.183). As a result the House of Commons agreed not to re-instate the amendment in the Bill.
6. In accordance with the Home Secretary's undertaking, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, containing provisions on the age of consent and abuse of trust (see paragraphs 7-8 below) was introduced in the House of Commons on 16th December 1998. At Second Reading on 25th January 1999 it was passed by 313 in favour 130 against. When the Bill was considered at Report Stage on 1st March (Hansard col. 754) a new provision was added so that a person under the age of consent would no longer commit an offence themselves if they engaged in buggery (not Scotland) or certain homosexual acts with a person over the age of consent (now clause 2 of the Bill, see paragraph 13 below). After Third Reading the Bill passed to the House of Lords on 2nd March. On 13th April when Lord Williams of Mostyn, QC, then a Minister of State at the Home Office, moved that the Bill be read a second time, Baroness Young moved an amendment that it be read "this day six months". The amendment was agreed to by 222 to146 and the Bill therefore fell in that session.
Abuse of trust
7. During the debate on the Crime and Disorder Bill on 22nd June 1998 Alun Michael, the then Home Office Minister of State, announced that an inter-departmental group, set up to identify additional safeguards needed to prevent unsuitable people from working with children, would also be looking to identify the measures necessary to protect 16 and 17 year olds who might be vulnerable to abuse by those in a position of trust (Hansard col.787). The inter-departmental working group on preventing unsuitable people working with children and abuse of trust conducted a short consultation exercise in England and Wales in August and September 1998. The Scottish Office conducted a similar consultation exercise in Scotland in October and November 1998. The interim report of the working group was placed in the library of both Houses on 25th November 1998. This proposed a new criminal offence specifically targeted to protect those who may be particularly vulnerable or where the relationship of trust is particularly strong, together with an initiative to strengthen codes of conduct.
8. These recommendations form the basis for the proposed offence of abuse of trust contained in the Bill introduced in December 1998 and in the present Bill. The Government also committed itself to strengthening codes of conduct generally to protect 16 and 17 year olds from sexual advances, both homosexual and heterosexual, from those in positions of trust. In accordance with this commitment, on 17 September 1999 the Government produced the booklet "Caring for young people and the vulnerable? Guidance for preventing abuse of trust", copies of which have been placed in the library of both Houses.
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
Clauses 1 and 2: Age of consent
9. Subsections (1) and (2) of clause 1 of the Bill deal with the age of consent in England and Wales. They substitute the word "eighteen" with the word "sixteen" where it appears in Section 12 and paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (as amended) and in section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. Extracts with the changes shown are set out at the end of these notes. The result is that:
10. Subsection (2) also substitutes the word "sixteen" for the word "twenty-one" in section 8 of the 1967 Act. Extracts with the changes shown are set out at the end of these notes. The effect is that the Director of Public Prosecutions' consent to the institution of proceedings for gross indecency with another male, buggery with another male or aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring or commanding the commission of these offences, will only be required where one of the males involved is under the age of 16 (rather than 21 at present). This change from 21 to 16 may appear more substantial than the other age changes proposed, but this is because by an oversight no consequential change from twenty-one to eighteen was made in the 1994 Act in line with the other age changes contained in that legislation.
11. Subsection (3) makes similar changes to the law in Scotland and substitutes the word "eighteen" with the word "sixteen" where it appears in section 13 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995. Extracts with the changes shown are set out at the end of these notes. The result is that consensual acts in private of sodomy or gross indecency or shameless indecency by one male person with another will not be an offence provided the parties to the act are aged 16 or over.
12. Subsection (4) makes similar changes to the law in Northern Ireland. However, the age of heterosexual consent in Northern Ireland is set at 17, so where the number "18" appears in the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (as amended) the word "17" is substituted for it. Extracts with the changes shown are set out at the end of these notes. The result is that consensual acts in private of buggery with another man, an act of gross indecency with another man or the act of being a party to the commission by a man of such an act, will not be an offence provided the parties to the act are aged 17 or over.
13. Clause 2 provides that no offence is committed in England and Wales under sections 12 and 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (as amended) by a person under the age of 16 if:
Extracts with the changes shown are set out at the end of these notes. The clause does not affect the liability of a person over the age of 16 who engages in such activities with a person under the age of consent - they continue to commit an offence. Both parties remain liable in the criminal law if they are both under the age of 16. Similar changes to those mentioned above are also made to the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland to decriminalise a male under 16 (17 in Northern Ireland) who engages in homosexual activities with someone over that age.
Clauses 3 to 6: Abuse of position of trust
14. Clauses 3 and 4 create a new offence of abuse of trust, which would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. It would be an offence for a person aged 18 or over to have sexual intercourse or engage in other sexual activity with a person under that age where they are in a "position of trust" in relation to the younger person. The definition of position of trust is limited to particular circumstances where the young person is particularly vulnerable or the relationship of trust particularly strong.
15. The test as to whether conduct amounts to "sexual activity" is whether a reasonable person would in the circumstances regard the activity as sexual. So for instance, a normal gynaecological examination by a doctor is an activity which it is envisaged a reasonable person would not regard as "sexual activity". Behaviour which a reasonable person would only regard as sexual activity if he was aware of the parties' intentions, motives or feelings is specifically excluded. Thus, behaviour which is non-sexual in nature, for example a sports trainer tackling a pupil on a rugby pitch, may not be challenged because of alleged hidden motives.
16. A person aged 18 or over is said to be in a "position of trust" in relation to a younger person if one of four conditions is met:
a) a hospital
b) a residential care home, nursing home, mental nursing home or private hospital
c) a community home, voluntary home, children's home or residential establishment
d) a home provided under section 82(5) of the Children Act 1989
The word 'persons' can include a single person, for example where only one child is in the care of foster parents.
17. Clause 4 also provides that the four conditions above may be added to by an Order which may be made by the Secretary of State and which would have to be laid before and be approved by both Houses of Parliament. In Scotland, any such order would fall to be considered by the Scottish Parliament, by virtue of clause 7(2) of the Bill and section 118 of the Scotland Act 1998.
18. It is a defence for a person charged with such an offence if at the time of intercourse or sexual activity:
In addition, there is a transitional provision to ensure that the offence will not apply where the older person was in a sexual relationship with the younger person at a time when he was in a position of trust in relation to the younger person immediately before the commencement of this Act.
19. A person found guilty at the magistrates' court in England and Wales or the District Court or Sheriff Court sitting summarily in Scotland of the offence of abuse of trust is liable to a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or the statutory maximum fine (currently £5,000). On conviction at the Crown court in England and Wales or in the Sheriff Court sitting with a jury or the High Court in Scotland the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.
20. Clause 5 makes the offence one that is listed in the Sex Offenders Act 1997, so that anyone convicted of this offence in the UK will be subject to the notification requirements under that Act. However, those under 20 who are convicted of the offence of abuse of trust will not have to register.
21. Clause 6 includes the offence of abuse of trust as one of the sexual offences listed in section 31 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (as amended) and in section 210A(10)of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. The courts in England and Wales have a discretion, under sections 58-60 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, to impose "extended sentences" in respect of such offences. An "extended sentence" under the 1998 Act (which can apply to a person of any age) comprises the normal period of imprisonment and supervision which would apply, followed by an "extension period", during which the offender continues to be on licence. An extended sentence, including extension period, must remain within the maximum penalty that is available for the offence in question - for abuse of trust, a maximum of 5 years. Sections 86-88 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced similar provisions for extended sentences in Scotland.
22. Clause 7(2) provides that, for the purposes of the Scotland Act 1998, the Bill shall be treated as a pre-commencement enactment within the meaning of that Act. One effect of this is that, in relation to Scotland, the power to make orders under clause 3 will become exercisable by the Scottish Ministers within the meaning of that Act.
FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL
23. The Government believes the overall effect of the changes in the Bill will be cost neutral.
24. We expect the offence of abuse of trust will act more as a deterrent than result in a large number of actual prosecutions. There are no accurate figures on which to base estimates. One starting point is in the education area and disciplinary action taken there. The number of teachers whose cases are considered by the Secretary of State as a result of inappropriate conduct against 16 and 17 year olds in relation to the list maintained by the Department for Education and Employment, List 99, is around 5 a year. This covers non-consensual as well as consensual relationships and is an approximate figure only. Nevertheless it provides some indication of possible numbers. For 16 and 17 year olds the education category is very much larger than for those in residential or foster care, or in detention, but the vulnerability in those settings may be more extreme. Based on this, we estimate prosecutions over the wider area covered by the proposed new offence would amount to around 10-15 a year in England and Wales. This results in costs to the criminal justice system of around £77k - £115k a year.
25. The Government believes these costs will be approximately offset by savings from no longer taking action through the criminal justice system against those males engaged in homosexual activity with 16 and 17 year olds, including 16 and 17 year olds themselves. At present there are only a few cautions or prosecutions each year against males aged 16 and 17 for the offences of buggery and gross indecency with males of their own age or older. In 1998 in England and Wales there was 1 caution, 2 prosecutions and 1 conviction of males aged 16 and 17 for gross indecency and 2 cautions and no prosecutions or convictions of 16 and 17 year old males for buggery. There were no cautions, 5 prosecutions and 8 convictions of those aged 18 and over for buggery with 16 and 17 year olds. Separate figures for gross indecency by those aged 18 and over with 16 and 17 year olds are not available. For males under 16 there were 4 cautions for gross indecency (no prosecutions or convictions) and 5 cautions, 6 prosecutions and no convictions for buggery. It is not possible to determine the age of the other party in these offences and hence whether they would remain able to be prosecuted if the Bill became law.
EFFECTS OF THE BILL ON PUBLIC SERVICE MANPOWER
26. None are expected.
SUMMARY OF THE REGULATORY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
27. No Regulatory Impact Assessment has been prepared as there could be only a negligible impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies.
EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
28. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Attorney General has made the following statement:
29. This Bill will come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint; and different days may be appointed for different purposes.
Extracts from the Sexual Offences Act 1956 showing words changed by the Bill
(1) It is [an offence] for a person to commit buggery with another person otherwise than in the circumstances described in subsection (1A) or (1AA) below or with an animal.
(1A) The circumstances first referred to in subsection (1) are that the act of
buggery takes place in private and both parties have attained the age of
(1AA) The other circumstances so referred to are that the person is under the age of sixteen and the other party has attained that age.
(1B) An act of buggery by one man with another shall not be treated as taking place in private if it takes place-
(a) when more than two persons take part or are present; or
(b) in a lavatory to which the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.
(1C) In any proceedings against a person for buggery with another person it shall be for
the prosecutor to prove that the act of buggery took place otherwise than in private or that one
of the parties to it had not attained the age of
Indecency between men
It is an offence for a man to commit an act of gross indecency with another man, otherwise than in the circumstances described below, whether in public or in private, or to be a party to the commission by a man of an act of gross indecency with another man, or to procure the commission by a man of an act of gross indecency with another man.
The circumstances referred to above are that the man is under the age of sixteen and the other man has attained that age.
Schedule 2, Paragraph 16
Table of Offences, Mode of Prosecution, Punishments, Etc
|Offence||Mode of Prosecution||Punishment|
|16.(a) Indecency between men (section 13)||(I) On indictment.||If a man of or over the age of twenty-one with a man under the age of |
|(ii) Summarily.||6 months and/or the statutory maximum.|
|(b) An attempt to procure the commission by a man of an act of gross indecency with another man.||(I) On indictment.||If the attempt is by a man of or
over the age of twenty-one to procure a man under the age of |
|(ii) Summarily.||6 months and/or the statutory maximum.|
Extracts from the Sexual Offences Act 1967 showing words changed by the Bill
Amendment of the law relating to homosexual acts in private.
(1) Notwithstanding any statutory or common law provision,
(a) a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties
consent thereto and have attained the age of
|© Parliamentary copyright 2000||Prepared: 1 March 2000|