Former Director of Public Prosecutions calls for criminal sanctions for failure to report child abuse

23 October 2014

In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, much attention has been focused on how we can avoid the occurrence of any future situation in which abusive behaviour against children remains seemingly unnoticed and unchallenged.

Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions, has called for the law to be changed in order to “focus people’s minds” about their responsibilities towards children who they fear may be subject to sexual abuse.  He is calling for an introduction of a "mandatory reporting" law whereby those who fail to act could receive a short jail sentence or a fine.  He says "There are just too many examples of cases where those who have suspected abuse have not really done anything about it and the perpetrator has either got away with it or, worse still, been able to perpetuate the offending."

The move towards mandatory reporting is supported by the Catholic Church and the Church of England.  Bishop Paul Butler, head of safeguarding at the Church of England said: "We have to think of the child first, not ourselves, not the institution, what's best for the child."

However, not everybody is convinced.  Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the Action for Children has already expressed her concerns as to whether such a law will have the required effect.  She said the more pertinent issue is that teachers and other professionals working with children lack adequate training to detect the early signs of abuse. 

Jonathan West from Mandate Now coalition of charities agrees change is needed in order to deter schools from trying to deal with such issues within their establishments or turning a blind eye to an issue which may bring a dark shadow over a school.

Following on from the Jimmy Savile case, BBC’s Panorama has found that over the past 60 years, senior civil servants have been aware of school authorities hiding child abuse in order to protect the reputations of their institutions. 

The government does not however currently have any plans to introduce criminal penalties for those who fail to report their concerns surrounding child abuse and the children they are in contact with. 

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.