DPP urged to re­as­sure ‘rape clause’ claimants they won’t face court

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY VIC­TO­RIA LEONARD

SHADOW North­ern Ire­land sec­re­tary Owen Smith has writ­ten to the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions seek­ing a guar­an­tee that women here who use the so­called ‘rape clause’ to ap­ply for ex­emp­tion from the univer­sal credit two child pol­icy will not face court.

The two child pol­icy lim­its new univer­sal credit claims to two chil­dren per fam­ily un­less cer­tain con­di­tions are met — such as the mother prov­ing she con­ceived a third child through rape.

The clause has proven con­tro­ver­sial, where Sec­tion 5 of the Crim­i­nal Law Act (NI) 1967 makes it an of­fence not to re­port a crime to the po­lice.

This means that women who ap­ply for ex­emp­tion to the two child pol­icy, but have not re­ported their rape, could po­ten­tially face pros­e­cu­tion.

Women in North­ern Ire­land seek­ing ben­e­fits for a child con­ceived through rape must fill in an eight-page HMRC doc­u­ment con­tain­ing a dec­la­ra­tion that the “non-con­sen­sual con­cep­tion ex­cep­tion ap­plies to my child”.

Part of the form must also be com­pleted by an ap­proved third party pro­fes­sional.

The form warns that, in North­ern Ire­land, a third party who “knows or be­lieves that a rel­e­vant of­fence (such as rape) has been com­mit­ted” have a duty to in­form the po­lice of any in­for­ma­tion that could lead to “the ap­pre­hen­sion, pros­e­cu­tion or con­vic­tion of some­one for that of­fence”.

This has raised fears that med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and of­fi­cials who fail to dis­close a rape re­vealed by a ben­e­fits ap­pli­cant dur­ing the process could also face pros­e­cu­tion.

Last week Labour MP Smith said he re­ceived a let­ter from Work and Pen­sions Min­is­ter Damian Hinds which con­firmed the risk of pros­e­cu­tion.

He said that the re­sponse “far from of­fer­ing re­as­sur­ance that women — and the Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to whom they di­vulge knowl­edge of the rape — will not be sub­ject to pros­e­cu­tion, in­stead points out that guide­lines for ap­pli­cant women spell out in bold the risk that they are run­ning”.

Fol­low­ing last week’s state­ment by DPP Barra McGrory that NHS em­ploy­ees here who re­fer lo­cal women to hos­pi­tals and clin­ics in Bri­tain for a ter­mi­na­tion would not risk pros­e­cu­tion, Mr Smith de­cided to write to him ask­ing for sim­i­lar guar­an­tees for women at le­gal risk due to the rape clause.

He said: “It should not fall to the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions to pub­licly re­as­sure women in NI that they will not be pros­e­cuted if they breach the terms of the Crim­i­nal Law Act (NI) 1967, but in the ab­sence of any mean­ing­ful re­sponse from min­is­ters, it now falls to him to pro­vide that re­as­sur­ance.”

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