Clause 18 - Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity with a child

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 16 Medi 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Llafur, Redcar

I am puzzled by clause 18, which does a similar thing to clauses 19, 20 and 21. Clause 18(1)(e) provides that a person commits an offence if

''B is under 18 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 18 or over''.

More or less the same phrase is contained in clauses 10 to 13:

''B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over''.

However, in clauses 18 to 21, there is an extra bit. Clause 18(3) states:

''Where in proceedings for an offence under this section it is proved that the other person was under 18, the defendant is to be taken not to have reasonably believed that that person was 18 or over unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he reasonably believed it.''

I am puzzled as to the special circumstances that require for this group of clauses an extra provision that is not required for the earlier group. I think that

clause 18(3) embodies the usual position, whereby unless an issue is raised about whether a person reasonably believes someone to be over age, the Crown must prove all of it. However, perhaps the subsection is intended to alter the burden of proof.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

As we are raising this matter, now might be a good moment to bring up subsection (1)(e)(ii)—I have flagged it up later in an amendment.

The second possibility under clause 18 is that ''B is under 13''. I have no objection to that, but it will effectively duplicate what already exists. Such action, irrespective of whether a person is in a position of trust, is already made a criminal offence. I wonder whether we are doing a good service to the criminal law by having the offence and identifying a person as under 13 when it is difficult to see what that adds to the other offences earlier in the Bill. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can enlighten us as to the Government's reasoning. Later in the Bill, there is another example, which I have sought to highlight by amending my deletion of part 2. It would be useful if the hon. Gentleman could help us.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Llafur, Redcar

May I raise another point? The hon. Member for Beaconsfield is right that only under clause 18 and thereafter is the person in a position of trust vis-à-vis the youngster. However, the sentence seems to be substantially less, which puzzles me.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

This is helping to keep me on my toes after lunch.

In clause 18 and subsequent clauses, we are re-enacting in its entirety the existing abuse of trust offence, which came into force in January 2001, under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. It is clear that Committee members appreciate that it is important that we now consolidate that in this legislation.

On the belief about age question, I say to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar that that evidential burden is placed on the defendant here because adults in a position of trust should be expected to know the age of the child: anyone who is in a position of trust with regard to a child should know precisely how old that child is. We regard that as a fundamental responsibility.

I suspect that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield was making a slightly different point. He has promised that we will address it later, and I hope that I will be able to respond to it more fully then.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Ceidwadwyr, North Thanet

Before we proceed, it is clear that at some point in its discussion of this collection of clauses, the Committee is likely to want to debate the overall issue of position of trust. I am fairly relaxed about that, but I would prefer to do so only once. I will leave that to the good will and intelligence of the Committee to sort out; its members can decide when they wish to instigate that debate, at which time I am sure that the Minister will be willing to respond to it. I do not want the Committee to become bogged down five times in what is basically the same debate.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.