Monday, 24 June 2013

The Jeremy Forrest case

Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who had a sexual relationship with a pupil of 15 and took her away to France, has now been convicted and sentenced. That is quite right and proper. I urge everyone interested to read the sentencing remarks of the judge, whcih are brief, clear and easily available at:

There are few points worth making about this. Firstly, the importance and value of an age of consent. Yes, those under that age may be - at least at the time - willing to enter into a sexual relationship but the age of consent makes this illegal and invalidates their consent. It is therefore a protection for them.

Then the judge, inadvertently no doubt, raised the possibility of Forrest waiting until the girl was 16. However, a sexual relationship with her would still have been illegal, as he was in a position of trust in relation to her, and in that situation the age of consent is 18. This was originally introduced in 2000 and is now in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 at Section 21. However, the offence as so defined currently only applies in the statutory sector. So a teacher or a youth worker who has such a relationship commits the offience if they are in the statutory sector but not if they are in the voluntary sector. So it is not a criminal offence in church life - although it most certainly is a disciplinary one. I think this is anomalous and that the offence should be extended to the voluntary sector and should include ministers of religion (of any faith).

Then we should consider the issue when the parties are of a comparable age. It is obviously one thing if a man of 30 has an affair with a girl of 15, but what if she has a relationship with a boyfriend who is also 15? If you are the parent of either, perhaps particularly of the girl, you would not be happy, but is it necessarily abuse? It may well not be, and the police may consider that it is not in the public interest to prosecute such cases.

As for Romeo and Juliet, the issue was not her age, which was 14 and which at one point her father thought was too young, but the fact that her preferred husband was from the other faction in Verona. Had she been willing to marry her father's choice there would have been no issue. But that takes us into the issue of arranged marriages versus love marriages and that is a quite different issue.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Disclosure and Barring Service June 2013 changes

When I was at our national safeguarding conference in January there was a fine for any time anyone said CRB instead of DBS, the Disclosure and Barring Service. Since December 2012 the DBS has combined the functions of the former CRB and the former Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Now we have a new round of changes. They were signalled a long time ago but the actual detail only came out three weeks ago - and over a Bank Holiday - which has made us scramble to come to terms with them and issue new guidance. I need to mention four of these:

Relevancy test

This affects how the job or role is described.

Filtering rules

Following a court decision the DBS will be removing details of convictions which count as 'spent' from their certificates. Some convictions, such as those for offences against children or for violence, will never count as spent for this purpose, but the rules are complicated.

Single certificate

The DBS will cease issuing two copies of each certificate and now issue only one, to the applicant. Parishes who subscribe to the ebulk service from Churches Agency for Safeguarding will receive notifications of clear certificates. Those who use the paper service will need ask the applicant to bring in their certificate so it can be logged.

Update service

When the government consulted on this, the biggest complaint came not about the need to get a DBS certificate in the first place, but the need to repeat it for other employers. This Diocese has always operated a policy of portability for volunteers but many employers did not. It was always legal but the CRB, as was, used to discourage it. The new Update service is designed to meet this need, so that those applying for new certificates can also for a fee (unless they are volunteers) register for the Update service. Subsequent employers can then check whether their certificate is clear.

Detailed guidance on all this has been sent to countersignatories, recruiters and verifiers and will shortly also be posted on the Diocesan website.