Sports Coaches (Positions of Trust)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:11 am on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 11:11 am, 4th March 2020

An interesting balance has to be struck. On the one hand, this place properly might want to prescribe where that happens, allowing no discretion for the CPS, but on the other hand, there may be a relevant public policy interest in saying to prosecutors that in other cases there is wider discretion. I have already made the point that in 2003 Parliament decided to draw a distinction that appears to focus on circumstances in which the state has a particular role in caring for the individual. That is something to be considered.

In 2019 the Government, recognising the concerns powerfully and properly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, began a review of the law on such abuses of positions of trust. Notwithstanding the narrow focus of this debate—on sports coaches—concerns about scope range far wider, as indicated by my neighbour, my hon. Friend Richard Graham. That is why the review also took account of the IICSA report—independent inquiry into child sexual abuse—on the Anglican Church, which focused on the diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against Peter Ball, a former bishop who in 2015 pleaded guilty to a series of sex offences. Recommendation 3 of that report stated:

“The government should amend Section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so as to include clergy within the definition of a position of trust. This would criminalise under s16–s20 sexual activity between clergy and a person aged 16–18, over whom they exercise pastoral authority, involving the abuse of a position of trust.”

Other settings might conceivably be relevant, such as youth clubs and scouts—as Baroness Blatch pointed out in 2003—and drama groups, choirs, Army cadets and learner drivers, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has done such a good job of drawing to the attention of the House.

Ministry of Justice officials have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders across youth and criminal justice sectors, including, in the area of faith and religion, the Anglican dioceses of Chichester and Lincoln, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Gardens of Peace, the Hindu Council UK, Marriage Care, the Sikh Council UK and St Philip’s Centre. In the sporting sector, the review team has heard from British Canoeing, British Fencing, British Gymnastics, the Football Association, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Royal Yachting Association, the Rugby Football League, the Rugby Football Union, Sport England and Swim England—I could go on.

A huge number of people have been consulted on this important issue. Officials have gone beyond those two areas to speak to youth organisations, including the National Citizen Service, the National Youth Agency, the Scouts and Volunteer Police Cadets. Those discussions were candid and wide ranging, and views were shared throughout the process. On behalf of the MOJ, I am extremely grateful to those who have given of their time for that important process.

A number of themes and suggestions emerged during the review, and it is right to note that many were non-legislative in nature. They included the better provision of education, the consideration of the effectiveness of the DBS system in practice, raising awareness and understanding of what grooming and genuine consent really look like, and the measures needed to protect young people from this type of abusive behaviour. Many measures can be taken alongside any potential changes to criminal law, which I am not ruling out at all—we will look at them very carefully. It is important to note that they deserve careful consideration.