Keoghs Insight


Shannon Boyce

Sexual Offences Act 2003 and closing the loophole: Update


The Government are set to make changes to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (“the Act”) to widen the definition of persons being in a ‘position of trust’ to include sports coaches and faith leaders.

As the law currently stands, section 21 of the Act states it is an offence for someone over the age of 18, who is in a ‘position of trust’ as defined by the Act, to engage in any sexual relationship with a person who is 16 to 17 years old. This only relates to those adults who provide care for a child in a residential care home, hospital or educational institution such as teachers and social workers and provides a list of professions that are caught under this ‘position of trust.’ Further, section 22 of the Act describes a person to be in a position of trust if they are ‘regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge’ of a child such as teachers and social workers. The law was designed to protect people who are above the age of consent (16) but are considered to be potentially vulnerable to sexual exploitation from an adult in a position of trust.

However, the illegality of such acts did not extend to those in similar positions of authority such as sports coaches or faith leaders. Although at first glance they appeared to meet the criteria listed in section 22, they were not specifically listed in section 21. This ‘loophole’ has therefore caused much concern and controversy over the years and in some cases it provided a defence to those adults who fell in to this category and had engaged in sexual activity with 16 and 17 year olds under their care/supervision.

As far back as February 2003, Baroness Blatch highlighted the issues in this ‘loophole”’ and asked for them to be addressed. There have since been years of campaigns by the NSPCC for the Government to re-visit this section of the law. Some facts relied upon to persuade the Government to close the loophole were found in a Freedom of Information request commissioned by the NSPCC. They found that between 2014 and 2018 there was a total of 653 recorded cases in which adults in a position of trust had a sexual relationship with a child of 16 to 17 years of age who were in their care.

The new law, which is contained in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, is also set to include longer prison sentences for a wide range of crimes such as tougher sentencing for knife crime, acts of terrorism and causing death whilst driving as well as removing automatic early release for serious violent and sexual offenders. 

The changes to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are supported by various Sports governing bodies such as British Gymnastics, Swim England and British Athletics along with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Church of England. The Government now intend to create a new s22A Sexual Offences Act 2003 to define positions of trust more clearly and close this loophole.

 For more information, please contact Shannon Boyce.