The mandatory reporting recommendation

Mr Loughton MP set out a theoretical scenario in which he was a volunteer scout leader who had been informed by a 12 year old scout and that he had been inappropriately touched by a 15½ year old girl. 

Under IICSA’s proposed mandatory reporting (MR) regime, that report would have to be reported, even if the boy scout had previously made similar allegations that had been shown to be untrue, or the scout leader was an experienced teacher who had safeguarding training and experience. As there was no option but to report, the leader was prohibited from using their own judgment (even though they could add to the report any concerns about the truth of the allegations). Instead, their power to make a judgment is completely undermined. All that will happen is that the mandatory report will become yet another task for social services and/or the police to add to caseloads that are already overwhelming. How are those professionals going to cope? It was not surprising that professional bodies were raising real concerns about MR.

What should happen is that professionals should exercise their judgment. If they fail to do so then they are in the wrong job, and the true problem is that there are not enough suitably skilled people in the correct roles. But what social work professionals, for example, do not require is yet another set of regulations that serve only to prevent them from carrying out their role. Mandatory reporting removes power and undermines professionalism. It would also be a further deterrent for people to volunteer with youth organisations (where they already faced DBS checks and vetting requirements).

Professor Jay and Ms Sharpling disagreed. In particular, a great deal of evidence given to IICSA illustrated that too many people could not be trusted to escalate initial disclosures. Far too often, nothing happened and in some cases abuse continued. That evidence was the basis for the recommendation. Even if some reports turned out to be vexatious, the public interest debate came down firmly in favour of MR

The increase to workloads had been considered, but mandatory reporting in other jurisdictions had shown that the number of reports gradually settled down after an initial spike. What did maintain an increase was the number of cases that required investigation, which should be regarded as a positive.

James Daly MP, who worked as a criminal defence solicitor for 16 years before becoming an MP, was more supportive of mandatory reporting than Mr Loughton MP but, having heard about the cultural challenges within the police he painted a very bleak picture. He saw mandatory reporting as one of the tools that could be deployed to improve a situation in which ‘the realistic picture is that people do not care’. Victims were treated in a ‘shabby, tardy manner’. If matters are not being reported now and people have to be forced to do so then that is what should happen. Mr Daly MP did express concern that it would be very difficult to define accepted indicators.

Miscellaneous questions and action points

This was the first time that IICSA panel members had been before the home affairs select committee since 2016. Six years later, and with £187m of taxpayers’ money having been spent, it is perhaps not surprising that the panel were challenged so forensically by the select committee. Only two of the main recommendations were covered. There is clearly the potential for further sessions. Other points of note and action points that arose during the 30 November session included the following:

  • Professor Jay agreed to appear with her colleagues before the education select committee. Based on questions from Miriam Cates MP, who had attended on behalf of the education select committee, we can expect discussion about recent proposed changes (of which the panel was unaware) to the online safety bill, the quality and reliability of inspections, how to prevent a culture that permits abuse and the vexed question of how schools should now teach relationship and sex education.
  • Dame Diana was keen to understand how many recommendations had been accepted, implemented in whole or part or rejected. Figures were given for the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. All other institutions had been grouped together. Dame Diana was very keen to understand more about progress, not only generally but also specifically within the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Professor Jay agreed to update the committee in writing.
  • The panel admitted that they had no idea how much it would cost to implement their recommendations. Due to extensive variables they had done no financial modelling.
  • The committee’s final concern was enforcement. The committee completely understood Professor Jay’s frustration that even though it had been a statutory inquiry IICSA had no power to enforce recommendations and to impose sanctions for non-compliance. Professor Jay agreed that this could potentially be part of a select committee’s role in the future. This was a generic problem for all inquiries and, thereafter, for any committee scrutinising recommendations. Dame Diana said that she would consult with colleagues.