On Monday the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012, brings into force a new piece of legislation creating a charge to prosecute those who cause or allow physical harm to a child or vulnerable adult. It will also create an offence allowing the prosecution of those who seek to blame others or remain silent about ongoing abuse.
Previously where there was insufficient evidence to identify the individual responsible for harm, there was no ability to bring charges. This new legislation will be implemented to address that anomaly. Previously if the abuse could be proved to lead to the death of the vulnerable person then prosecutions could be brought (as was the case with Baby P). However, if they lived there was no appropriate charge in some cases, potentially leaving the vulnerable person unprotected.
There will be concern, as there always is, in relation to offences that potentially rely on the ability to prove that someone failed or omitted to act, whereas most offences rely on proof of a positive act.
Judges and others are being provided with guidance as to the implementation of the new law, and the maximum penalty for causing or allowing harm will be one of 10 years imprisonment. It will be interesting to see quite how far it is intended that the responsibility to act reaches into the community surrounding vulnerable individuals. The legislation itself is unlikely to prescribe any limits, and it will be for the Appeal Courts as ever to set the boundaries.
The above article is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.