Barrister leads sexual risk order reform

Sexual offences
Measures that give police greater powers to protect children against the risk of sexual harm have been adopted by the Home Office, endorsing the recommendations of a review led by Hugh Davies OBE QC.


The Sexual Harm Prevention Order replaces the Sexual Offences Prevention Order and the Foreign Travel Order, and can be applied to anyone convicted or cautioned for a sexual or violent offence, including where offences are committed overseas. The Sexual Risk Order replaces the Risk of Sexual Harm Order and can be applied to anyone who poses a risk of sexual harm in the UK or abroad, even if never convicted. The threshold for risk will also be lowered to cover any case of sexual harm, not just cases of serious sexual harm.

The “Davies Review” of the Civil Prevention Orders Sexual Offences Act 2003, commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Child Protection and Abuse Investigation Working Group and published in May this year, had found that the existing statutory regime presented “unnecessary and unreasonable obstruction to the objective of preventing sexual abuse of children” and that the UK’s basic human rights obligations were not being met.

Davies, who led a team of multi-disciplinary practitioners, urged the Government to undertake a formal review of the issues raised and to initiate immediate legislative reform. The central recommendation was that the existing three forms of civil prevention orders in relation to protecting children (not adults) be abolished and replaced with a single “Child Sexual Offences Prevention Order” that was not contingent on prior conviction and produced parity of protection for children in the UK and abroad.

The new civil orders, which have been extended by the Government to include vulnerable adults, were introduced as an amendment to the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill in October, also build on Nicola Blackwood MP’s Clause 5 amendment, whose Childhood Lost campaign which attracted over 103,000 supporters.

According to UN estimates, two million children are employed in the international industry of sexual abuse. “This is not simply a problem for foreign countries,” wrote Davies and Madeleine Wolfe in a recent report for Counsel (‘Toxic Exports: time for change’, July 2013, pp26-28).

“Offending patterns are learnt in low-risk environments abroad and then practised within the UK. The NSPCC reports that 17,186 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded in England and Wales in 2011/12 [and] the Telford and Oxford trials demonstrated a pattern of child trafficking.”

The report also invited review of the resourcing of extra-territorial policing and recommended a dedicated national investigation unit for such extra-territorial offending.

Keir Starmer QC, former Director for Public Prosecutions, has meanwhile called for a law on reporting child sex abuse. He told BBC’s Panorama (‘After Savile: No more secrets?’), broadcast in November, that it was time to “close a gap that’s been there for a very long time”.

“The problem is if you haven’t got a central provision requiring people to report, then all you can do is fall back on other provisions that aren’t really designed for that purpose and that usually means they run into difficulties,” he said to the BBC.

“What you really need is a clear, direct law that everybody understands.” Starmer had travelled to Washington to study its mandatory reporting scheme and concluded that it could work in this country.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council is to publish tougher sentencing guidelines for sex crimes in December, with a greater focus on the psychological harm caused to victims.

The Davies Review – Civil Prevention Orders Sexual Offences Act 2003: ACPO commissioned review of the existing statutory scheme and recommendations for reform – is available at www.ecpat.org.uk.

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