Government claims paedophile laws do not need updating

Out-of-date act "sufficient" to deal with Internet crime says government

The Home Office claims the 40-year-old Indecency with Children Act -- made law in 1960 -- is sufficient to deal with paedophiles operating on the Internet.

The government is adamant that the prosecution of Patrick Green last week for raping a girl that he met on the Internet has not revealed a problem in UK legislation. This comes despite the fact that the government's hugely controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was rushed through parliament with home secretary Jack Straw claiming snooping powers needed to be modernised to deal with the Internet.

The case -- in which 33-year-old Green posed in an Internet chatroom as a 15 year-old boy before raping the 13-year-old girl he met there -- has caused widespread outrage. Police authorities, lawyers and children's charities have called for the law in the UK to brought in line with the US, where authorities have the power to "entrap" online paedophiles. The government denies it is considering introducing such legislation. Experts argue introducing entrapment laws could actually prevent paedophiles physically abusing children by catching them before a criminal offence is committed.

The Indecency with Children Act states "conspiracy, enticement or the attempt to commit gross indecency with a child under 14" is a criminal offence and it is this clause that the government believes covers the offence of luring children online.

Lawyers dispute the government's reasoning. Peter Wilson, partner at law firm Tarlo Lyons argues that the word "attempt" relates to a physical act and so is unsuitable for online harassment cases. Legal interpretation of the term "conspiracy" also refers to a crime involving two people, making it similarly inappropriate for paedophiles soliciting or conducting indecent conversations with children on the Internet.

Nigel Williams, director of children's charity Childnet International, is unconvinced by the Home Office's response that existing legislation, in particular the Indecency with Children Act 1960, is sufficient to deal with online enticement. He argues that the three most recent Internet paedophile cases in Britain were unable to prosecute the perpetrator for "conspiracy".

In the Patrick Green case, the police were initially concerned that existing law was insufficient to bring charges. It was only when they found DNA evidence in Green's flat that they were able to charge him for the offline sexual offence of sexual intercourse with a minor.

Childnet's Williams accuses the government of complacency. "The Home Office's view is complacent -- I wonder why the offence of conspiracy has not been used in cases where the government is claiming it is appropriate," he says.

Despite the government's position on the law, one Tory peer is determined to change the law. Baroness Blatch wants to introduce legislation that will specifically cover use of the Internet to commit acts of gross indecency with children. She also suggests an additional clause in the Indecency with Children Act stating "any person who knowingly employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices or coerces a child to engage in an act of gross indecency with or towards any guilty of an offence" would help.

Baroness Blatch's proposals were discussed in the House of Lords Tuesday afternoon.

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