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Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000

Background

Age of consent

5.The age at which a person could lawfully consent to homosexual acts and to buggery (not Scotland) was reduced from 21 to 18 by virtue of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. On 22 June 1998, in accordance with an agreement reached in the cases before the European Court of Human Rights of Sutherland and Morris, the House of Commons was given the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the then Crime and Disorder Bill to reduce the age of consent for buggery and homosexual acts to 16. The amendment on the age of consent was passed in the House of Commons on a free vote but rejected by the House of Lords on 22 July. In the subsequent debate in the House of Commons on 28 July the Home Secretary announced that legislation dealing with the age of consent would be introduced in the 1998-99 session (Hansard col.183). As a result the House of Commons agreed not to re-instate the amendment in the Bill.

6.In accordance with the Home Secretary’s undertaking, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, containing provisions on the age of consent and abuse of trust (see paragraphs 7- 8 below) was introduced in the House of Commons on 16 December 1998. At Second Reading on 25 January 1999 it was passed by 313 in favour 130 against. When the Bill was considered at Report Stage on 1 March (Hansard col. 754) a new provision was added so that a person under the age of consent would no longer commit an offence themselves if they engaged in buggery (not Scotland) or certain homosexual acts with a person over the age of consent (now section 2 of the Act , see paragraph 12 below). After Third Reading the Bill passed to the House of Lords on 2 March. On 13 April when Lord Williams of Mostyn, QC, then a Minister of State at the Home Office, moved that the Bill be read a second time, Baroness Young moved an amendment that it be read “this day six months”. The amendment was agreed to by 222 to146 and the Bill therefore fell in that session.

Abuse of trust

7.During the debate on the Crime and Disorder Bill on 22 June 1998 Alun Michael, the then Home Office Minister of State, announced that an inter-departmental group, set up to identify additional safeguards needed to prevent unsuitable people from working with children, would also be looking to identify the measures necessary to protect 16 and 17 year olds who might be vulnerable to abuse by those in a position of trust (Hansard col.787). The inter-departmental working group on preventing unsuitable people working with children and abuse of trust conducted a short consultation exercise in England and Wales in August and September 1998. The Scottish Office conducted a similar consultation exercise in Scotland in October and November 1998. The interim report of the working group was placed in the library of both Houses on 25 November 1998. This proposed a new criminal offence specifically targeted to protect those who may be particularly vulnerable or where the relationship of trust is particularly strong, together with an initiative to strengthen codes of conduct.

8.These recommendations form the basis for the proposed offence of abuse of trust contained in the Bill introduced in December 1998 and in the present Act. The Government also committed itself to strengthening codes of conduct generally to protect 16 and 17 year olds from sexual advances, both homosexual and heterosexual, from those in positions of trust. In accordance with this commitment, on 17 September 1999 the Government produced the booklet “Caring for young people and the vulnerable? Guidance for preventing abuse of trust”, copies of which were placed in the library of both Houses.

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