The Law Commission has commenced a consultation in to a review of the offence of misconduct in public office. The purpose is to decide whether the offence should be abolished, retained, restated or amended.
Currently the elements of the offence are;
- A public officer acting as such, willfully neglects to perform his/her duty and/or
- Wilfully conducts him/herself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder without reasonable excuse or justification.
In the context of allegations of sexual abuse, this was the charge brought against Bishop Peter Ball in respect of the evidence of most of the complainants who had made allegations against him. He pleaded guilty. It has also been used to prosecute teachers, police or medical staff in connection with inappropriate sexual behaviour involving pupils, the public or patients.
The Law Commission notes there has been a significant increase in the number of prosecutions for this offence but a decrease in the number of convictions. This may be due to a lack of clear definition about the correct usage of the offence. The consultation contains 12 questions and responses are required by 20 March 2016. Further details are available at: http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/misconduct-in-public-office/
Written by Paula Jefferson, partner