Child abuse laws in England and Wales to be expanded and close legal loophole - full details explained

Plans to expand child abuse laws in England and Wales would mean that religious leaders and sports coaches will be breaking the law if they have sexual relationships with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care (Photo: Shutterstock)

Plans to expand child abuse laws in England and Wales would mean that religious leaders and sports coaches will be breaking the law if they have sexual relationships with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.

This expansion of child abuse laws would make sexual relationships between people in these positions and those they supervise illegal, and woud put them on par with roles such as doctors, teachers and social workers.

The Government’s plans come after calls from campaigners for the so-called Position of Trust laws to be extended in order to cover other roles that have responsibility over young people, such as religious leaders and sports coaches.

Although the age of consent is 16, it is illegal for those in some professions, including doctors, teachers and social workers to have a sexual relationship with 16 or 17-year-olds who are in their care.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “We are delighted that after relentless campaigning, the Government has finally listened to our calls and agreed to close this legal loophole.

“This landmark step sends a clear message that children and young people can return to the extracurricular activities they love without being at risk of grooming by the very adults they should look to for support and guidance.”

Number of measures proposed in Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

The expansion of child abuse laws is just one of a number of measures proposed by the Government in its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is set to be introduced to Parliament on Tuesday (9 March).

The plans will also look at allowing judges to give Whole Life Orders for the premeditated murder of a child, as well as to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases - such as for acts of terrorism which result in the mass loss of life.

Life sentences for killer drivers and powers to stop the automatic release halfway through a sentence for serious violent and sexual offenders could also be brought into place, alongside new court orders to help tackle knife crime and make it easier for police to stop and search those that they suspect of carrying a knife.

Plans also include tougher punishments for the criminal damage of a memorial, with the maximum penalty set to increase from three months to 10 years.

The proposals also seek to place a legal duty on councils, police, criminal justice bodies, health and fire services to tackle serious violence and share intelligence.

The Bill could also see deaf people able to sit on juries for the first time, with sign-language interpreters allowed into jury deliberation rooms.