On Monday 5 July 2021, two new offences commence under the Queensland Criminal Code in response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
These new offences are:
Section 229BB – Failure to protect child from child sexual offence.
Section 229BC – Failure to report belief of child sexual offence committed in relation to child.
Anglican Church Southern Queensland (ACSQ) Director of Professional Standards Greg Milles said that these new offences will help ensure children in Queensland are better protected from those who intend to cause them harm.
“The new offences are part of an ongoing range of legislative enactments aimed at helping to improve and ensure the safety of all children in Queensland,” Mr Milles said.
“The best way for people to support the new laws is to be aware of them, particularly if they are engaged in any ministry to children.”
Failure to Protect Offence
Section 229BB obliges all Queensland adults in positions of responsibility within institutions, such as the ACSQ, to take reasonable steps to protect children in their care from a known “significant risk” of sexual abuse.
This will mean that any Church worker or volunteer who is in a position to protect children from a known risk of sexual abuse must do so or they risk committing an offence under Section 229BB of the Criminal Code
If a person is found to have wilfully or negligently failed to protect a child whom they had the power or responsibility to protect, they may face a criminal penalty of up to five years imprisonment.
For the ACSQ, this law may apply to, among others, clergy, stipendiary lay ministers, wardens, parish councillors and other volunteers, particularly if they are involved in children’s ministry. The duty to act will apply in relation to any child under the care or supervision of the ACSQ.
Mr Milles said that the best way for people to protect a child should they become aware of any risk is to immediately report that risk to their supervisor, manager or the Office of Professional Standards.
“It is essential that the risk is reported to an appropriate person in charge or the Office of Professional Standards, and if the risk is imminent they should take any reasonable steps to prevent that risk while waiting for assistance,” he said.
Failure to Report Offence
Section 229BC imposes a legal obligation on all Queensland adults to report child sexual abuse to the police. A failure to report to police a belief on reasonable grounds that child sexual abuse has occurred, or is occurring, will be an offence punishable by up to three years imprisonment, unless you have a “reasonable excuse” not to make that report.
If a Church worker or volunteer is unsure whether they have information that is required to be reported, they can contact the Office of Professional Standards for assistance and advice.
Mr Milles said that these laws also apply to religious confession as those that hear confessions are “accountable persons” under the new offence.
“It is important that community members know that for both the new offences it will not be a defence that a clergy person only came to know of information about child sexual abuse from a religious confession,” he said.
Mr Milles said that if the alleged offender is a Church worker or volunteer, people are also required to report the risk to the Office of Professional Standards.
“It is important for people to be aware that if the alleged offender is a Church worker or volunteer, that they are also required under ACSQ policy to report that information to the Office of Professional Standards for potential investigation purposes,” he said.
Examples of “reasonable excuse” are given under Section 229BC(4) and include:
- Believing on reasonable grounds that the information has already been reported to police.
- Believing on reasonable grounds that someone else will report the information under the child protection provision of other specified legislation (such as the Child Protection Act 1999).
- If the victim is now an adult, reasonably believing they do not wish the matter reported.
- Reasonably withholding information due to a reasonable belief that disclosing the information would endanger yourself or would endanger another person other than the alleged offender.
Changes in policies, procedures and training
Mr Milles said that in response to these new laws, new and amended policies and procedures will be developed in forthcoming months to help Church workers and volunteers meet their obligations.
“This will include new safe ministry guidelines and updated child protection training,” he said.
“For further information, or for assistance in relation to any matter involving child sexual abuse, please contact the Office of Professional Standards by calling 1800 242 544 or by email at email@example.com.”
More information about these new laws is available on the Queensland Government website.