Internet 'grooming' legislation faces delays

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes warned on Monday that new laws designed to protect children from Internet paedophiles will be delayed

Groundbreaking laws proposed to protect children from Internet paedophiles are likely to be shifted down the legislative timetable, to make way for the introduction of new terrorist laws.

Speaking at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton on Monday, Beverley Hughes, the Home Office minister and chair of the Internet Taskforce on Child Protection, implied that new "grooming" laws could be delayed by an urgency to update terrorist laws as quickly as possible.

"She hopes that child protection laws will be included into the Criminal Justice Act shortly, but there are a number of other factors relating to the terrorist situation that may now take precedence," said David Kerr, chairman of IWF.

The grooming initiative was developed in August by the Scrutiny of the Criminal Law subgroup of the Home Office Internet Taskforce on Child Protection. The proposal includes a new criminal offence relating to a meeting with a child with the intention of engaging in a sexual activity, and a new civil order to protect children from an adult making contact with them for a harmful purpose, especially by email or through the Internet. It is still in its preliminary stage, but is designed to address a recognised gap in the law relating to the luring of children over the Internet for sexual purposes.

"We want the new laws as soon as possible, as there is the risk that some other children might fall foul to the predators out there," said John Carr, Internet consultant for NCH Action for Children. "It is sad, and we wish it was otherwise, but we're not doubting the Home Office's good faith."

The British Parliamentary timetable has been affected by the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The Home Office had been keen to get the grooming proposals on the statute books within the next Parliamentary session: a Home Office spokesman told ZDNet News on 7 September that "if there is positive feedback, we would look to take the proposals forward as quickly as possible."

The initial consultation period for the proposals closed on 28 September, and they will be discussed at the next Internet taskforce meeting on 23 October.

The Home Office could not be contacted for further comment at the time of going to press.

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