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

That is precisely the matter that we have to grapple with. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for expressing her point.

Returning, for completeness, to the exhaustive process of review, most stakeholders that the MOJ heard from felt that a change in the law was required. Most also agreed that any change or reform of the existing laws raised difficult and complicated issues. Some expressed concern that drafting the law too narrowly, or perhaps simply listing roles or jobs considered as a position of trust, risked creating loopholes or definitions that could be easily exploited or circumvented by abusers. Equally, others raised the point that any broad or wide-sweeping new definition could raise the age of consent by stealth.

If we do not get this right, it is not difficult to think of hard cases that would risk undermining confidence in the criminal justice system. One could imagine, as was imagined specifically by Lord Falconer in the 2003 debate, a consensual relationship between a 19-year-old coach and a 17-year-old footballer where no abuse of power or trust had taken place, and with no suggestion of any sort of bargain whereby sexual activity was traded for, say, team selection. In such circumstances, there might be proper public concern about criminalising that coach. Let us be clear: he or she would be at risk of conviction, punishment and disgrace, alongside a conviction that would remain on the police national computer for life. He or she may well be subject to stringent notification requirements. His or her life would be, to a large extent, ruined.

With that in mind, the Government are considering all options, including legislative change, and they are doing so with pace and care. As noted already, I have asked that that work be prioritised, and I will be in a position to announce next steps before the end of May.

This debate has offered a valuable contribution to the evaluation of these important issues. They are important because safeguarding young people in all situations, not just those limited to sport, is essential.