The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012 received Royal Assent this week - see the Act. It makes an important amendment to the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 - (here).
Section 5 of the 2004 Act created the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult. The 2012 Amendment Act extends section 5 so as to cover causing or allowing "serious physical harm." The amended section 5 will come into force on a date to announced by Statutory Instrument. The amendments will not apply in relation to any harm resulting from an act that occurs, or so much of an act that occurs, before the commencement date.
A new section 6A (dealing with evidence and procedure) is inserted into the 2004 Act. The Schedule to the 2012 Act sets out various consequential amendments to various other Acts.
Section 5 of the 2004 Act - once amended, will read - (changes shown in Blue):
- “act” includes a course of conduct and also includes omission;
- “child” means a person under the age of 16;
- “vulnerable adult” means a person aged 16 or over whose ability to protect himself from violence, abuse or neglect is significantly impaired through physical or mental disability or illness, through old age or otherwise.
The 2012 Act is an example of a Private Member's Bill actually becoming law. The Bill was introduced by Sir Paul Beresford (MP for Mole Valley) and received the support of the Ministry of Justice - (News Release).
The background to the 2004 Act is explained in an article by Richard Smith QC - "Which of you did it?" As Smith pointed out, the situation which prosecutors used to face was problematic where it could be proved that one or more of a small group of people living in the same household as the victim caused the death of that victim, but not specifically which one of them. The 2004 Act addressed this "prosecutor's dilemma" and the Act was successfully used in the Baby-P case. The 2012 Act addresses the same dilemma in relation to cases where serious physical injury has been caused or allowed
The term "serious harm" is defined by the 2004 Act as harm that amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. For the purposes of the 1861 Act, the term "grievous bodily harm" has been held by the House of Lords to include psychiatric injury - (R v Burstow 1997 - House of Lords). However, the amendments to the 2004 Act refer to "serious physical injury."