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‘Position of trust’ definition expanded to include religious leaders

15 July 2022

A new section is now added to the Sexual Offences Act

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THE Sexual Offences Act 2003 has been amended to expand the definition of a person in a “position of trust” to include anyone who is coaching, teaching, training, supervising, or instructing in a sport or a religion.

The change was first proposed in March 2021 with the introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill (News, 12 March 2021). It sought to amend the Act, which lists people and settings in positions of trust, to make it illegal for both religious leaders and sports coaches to engage in sexual activity with 16- and 17-year-olds. The age of consent for sexual activity in the UK is 16; this rises to 18, however, where one person in a position of trust is involved.

The Bill was given Royal Assent at the end of April.

This has been widely supported, and was recommended by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in its interim report on abuse in the Anglican Church (News, 9 May 2019).

A policy document on what is now the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act, published in May, explains that, instead of simply an amendment to the existing list, a new section is now added to the Sexual Offences Act: “This is because the current positions are defined either by reference to statutory settings or services so far as the adult’s relationship to the young person is concerned.

“Non-statutory settings represent a departure from the current legislation and require a different approach.”

Simply expanding the definitions was not enough, the document explains. “Whilst tempting to expand the definitions in such a broad manner, it was important to note that as the definition widens so does the erosion of the legal right of those over the age of 16 to consent to sexual activity.”

The Government was also “intending to include provisions in the [Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts] Act to allow additional positions of trust to be added via secondary legislation should that prove necessary”.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, who is the Church’s deputy lead safeguarding bishop and co-chair designate of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on safeguarding in faith settings, said: “It was good to see such support for this across Parliament and to have this additional legislative framework for the protection of young people in our faith communities.”

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