The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) has today published its report into the Roman Catholic Church.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Hugh James Partner and specialist child abuse lawyer, Alan Collins, said:
“Today’s report is right to point to systemic failings. But the focus is on leadership and process and this is only part of the story. At the centre of this issue is also a historical and ongoing reluctance of the church to accept secular law. The attitude to child sex abuse has got to change.
We have seen, time and time again, a subtle tolerance of those who have abused. We have also seen conflicting attitudes in relation to sex and sexuality. This brings the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings into conflict with secular law and societal norms. The challenge for effective leadership in the Roman Catholic Church is not to bring about effective safeguarding but a sea change in its approach to these very sensitive issues.
That much-needed shift in approach may be assisted by the Roman Catholic Church being subject to effective external auditing. While IICSA recognises the need for an external audit, it does not go far enough. There is a role for government to examine the need for legislation and, if necessary, to create an external safeguarding body that ensures that the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organisations comply with the law and meet child protection requirements.
It is also disappointing that the independent inquiry has not advanced the need for mandatory reporting in this report – but proposes to address this in a later report. This must be urgently addressed. The evidence presented to IICSA makes it abundantly clear that it should be mandatory for any person in a position of trust to report an allegation, or suspicion, of child sexual abuse to the police.
To be effective, any failure to do so should be an offence for both the individual and the body that they belong to or represent.”
An offence would be committed if the person fails to report to police in circumstances where they know, suspect, or should have suspected, that an adult associated with the institution was sexually abusing, or had sexually abused, a child.
The “failure to report offence” is aimed at third parties – that is, persons other than the perpetrator of the abuse. Also, it imposes a positive obligation to act by making a report to police.
The aims in reporting cases of sexual abuse are to protect vulnerable children, to stop the continuance of sexual abuse of victimised children, to provide health and support services to the child and her or his family, to detect perpetrators, and to prevent the abuse of other children.
The fundamental argument underpinning mandatory reporting laws for child sexual abuse is grounded in the child’s right to bodily inviolability and, therefore, to be protected from sexual abuse and the damage it causes. Moreover, in the context of sexual abuse, children, as IICSA has heard in detail, are particularly vulnerable. Sexual abuse by its nature requires those in society with certain responsibilities to report known and suspected cases.
Mandatory reporting laws aim to give sexually victimised children the possibility of social support and assistance in circumstances where access to society’s supportive and protective mechanisms is severely compromised. These rights and interests are consistent with other legal rights held by children and adults in domestic laws, and rights promoted for children by international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
There is much to be done. IICSA has shone a light on the RCC and it is now for government and Parliament to take-up the recommendations to see that they are delivered effectively.”
Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high-profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.
Hugh James represents various core participants at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.