Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Further Advance of Sarah's Law *UPDATED*

Sarah's Law, English law's answer to the US Megan's Law is being further rolled out across England. The London Evening Standard reports that from tomorrow, the scheme will be rolled out to eight other force areas - West Mercia, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Thames Valley, West Midlands, Essex and Suffolk.

It is intended that Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Sussex, Leicestershire, Wiltshire, Cheshire, Durham, Northumbria, Dorset, Lincolnshire, Surrey and Gloucestershire will all join the scheme in the Autumn.

Put simply, 'Sarah's Law' gives a parent the right to check with police if anyone with regular unsupervised access to their children has a criminal conviction for child sex offences.

I was opposed to the introduction of Sarah's Law. It remains in my view a poor solution to a misdiagnosed problem. It's a tribute to how a moral panic can result in bad law. I continue to fear that this scheme lures parents into a false security about new partners and allows us off the hook as a society in truly resolving our issues around consent in sexual relationships.

Despite this, my worst fears about the law do not appear to have been realised. Current trials in Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire have not resulted in lynch mobs on our streets although equally, it's unclear how effective the measures have been in protecting children from abuse.

*UPDATE* The media this morning have obviously been briefed on this story by the Home Office since the Evening Standard piece was produced. Both the BBC and Sky are reporting that 60 children had been protected from abuse during the pilot scheme.

The BBC goes on to state that nearly 600 inquiries to the four forces involved in the pilot led to 315 applications for information and 21 disclosures about registered child sex offenders.

A further 43 cases led to other actions, including referrals to children's social care, and 11 general disclosures were made regarding protection issues linked to violent offending, the Home Office has apparently said.

It also interesting to see from the Sky piece that the NSPCC continue to share my concerns about the scheme. However, I don't see the tide being turned back on this. I hope that the Home Office will at least have the decency to publish the information it has released to the media on its website so that academics and the public can examine the trial data. At the time of this update, it is irritatingly absent from the Home office website.

The BBC also includes an excellent piece exploring Sarah's Law and 'five scenarios'. Well worth a look.

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