New offence proposed to Govt

The Law Reform Commission has proposed a new offence to highlight the focus of protecting children and vulnerable people by prevention and deterrence.   In a report published today, the commission suggested to impose criminal liability on those who fail to take reasonable steps to protect a child under 16 or a vulnerable person over 16, including the elderly and the disabled, from death or serious harm.   The proposed offence would apply in domestic settings where the defendant was a member of the same household and had frequent contact with the victim.   It would also apply in institutional settings where the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim, such as domestic helpers, school teachers and elderly home managers.   The mental element of the proposed offence is that the defendant knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that there was a risk of serious harm to the victim, including psychological or psychiatric harm resulting from sexual assault.   Another element pertains to the defendant's failure to take reasonable steps to protect the victim.   There would be a maximum of 20 years' jail in cases where the victim dies and 15 years' imprisonment where the victim suffers serious harm.   Law Reform Commission Causing or Allowing the Death of a Child or Vulnerable Adult Sub-committee Chairman Amanda Whitfort said: “This is a proactive, preventative offence. It seeks to encourage intervention before the worst has occurred. It also closes the current evidential loophole which creates problems when the prosecution cannot identify the perpetrator of the abuse.”   The commission also recommends that the Government should review the maximum penalty for the offence of ill-treatment or neglect of a child.   The report follows a study by the sub-committee, which issued a consultation paper in May 2019. It has studied the laws and practices of other common law jurisdictions, in particular England, South Australia and New Zealand.   To read the full report or the executive summary, visit the commission’s website.
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