05/04/2005

New offence closes legal loophole - Spellar

A legal loophole has been closed that previously allowed those jointly accused of the murder of a child or vulnerable adult to escape justice by remaining silent or blaming each other, the Government has said.

The new offence of familial homicide is one of the new provisions from the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.

Announcing the commencement of the new provisions Criminal Justice Minister John Spellar said: “The current loophole, where everyone escapes justice because it is not clear which individual from a small group of people caused the death of a child or vulnerable adult is clearly unacceptable.

“The introduction of the offence of familial homicide reflects the Government’s belief that criminal responsibility must be borne by both the person who caused the death and the person who stood by and did not prevent it.”

Mr Spellar said the new measure puts a clear legal responsibility on adult household members who have frequent contact with a child or vulnerable adult to take reasonable steps to protect them.

“The reasonable steps that an adult is expected to take will vary depending on the circumstances of the case and ultimately it will be for the jury to decide if the person acted reasonably,” he continued.

“Changes to the procedure whereby a defendant’s fitness to be tried is determined have also been introduced. Previously, this decision could only be made by a jury but under changes introduced in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 the court shall be able to take this decision. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act received Royal Assent on 15 November 2004. Although primarily an Act for England and Wales, a number of its provisions will also apply in Northern Ireland.

(MB)

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