I am writing this just after I have made my first short speech in the House of Commons in my new job as a Shadow Justice Minister. Unusually I spoke in favour of a Conservative MP’s Private Member’s Bill. The Bill amended the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act by creating a new offence of “serious physical harm” inflicted upon children or vulnerable adults in the context of the Act.
This sounds a bit technical, but basically what the Bill does is reinforce the law so that stronger action can be taken against individuals who “allow” serious harm to a child. Under the current law, which was introduced by Labour, a number of high profile cases have been pursued against individuals who allowed the death of a child. Many people will remember the case of Baby P when he died after suffering horrific injuries. In that case it was impossible for the police to prove whether it was the mother, her partner or their lodger who was responsible for his death. The result was all three were found guilty of allowing his death.
This amendment takes the law a significant step further. When it reaches the statute book it will be a crime for serious physical harm to be inflicted, even if the child does not die, if it can be proven that individuals did not exercise proper care.
When the original law was introduced in 2004 the Labour Minister at the time said that it might well be appropriate to return to this issue at a later date. Given that the Crown Prosecution Service identified 20 potential cases in 2010 alone where the current law was inadequate to allow prosecutions to be made, it is clearly high time for the law to be strengthened and this Private Member’s Bill does precisely that.
The Bill was put forward by Sir Paul Beresford of Mole Valley. His name is not at all well known outside of the Palace of Westminster, but Sir Paul has a good reputation over many years for putting forward important children’s issues. It is one of the strengths of Parliament that so-called Private Members are able to promote such issues, often with cross-party support.
Labour MP for Caerphilly