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A statement made by Sinclairslaw CEO Mr Michael Charles
Inspired by the harrowing story of two children who recently took their own lives consequent to bullying, I have decided to take unprecedented action to highlight that the law does not allow any safe haven from its reach.
It is long established that schools owe a duty of care to protect children from harm both in terms of the civil and criminal law. Equally individuals who engage in bullying behaviour, or schools in the face of clear evidence who fail to prevent it, are subject to similar sanctions. Abusive material directed toward another either in the form of letters or via electronic means generally violate the criminal law especially where a victim is likely to suffer consequent harm. Yet prosecutions in respect of bullying incidents are relatively rare due to a belief that low level bullying may not constitute sufficient evidence of a crime or perhaps over stretched and under resourced law enforcement agencies.
This approach has allowed such behaviour to flourish despite the fact that it kills. Most people appreciate that driving a vehicle dangerously could not only kill but lead them into a criminal dock. Yet engaging in extremely offensive behaviour should be treated in the same way. It harms individuals in the same way. In the case of children the problem is often magnified.
It is also well known that in law you must take a victim as you find him, meaning that if you happen to pick upon a vulnerable person and they suffer more injury than a less vulnerable person would, the law must remain blind as to a culprit’s defence that he did not know. Children may often suffer a greater level of emotional stress than perhaps most mature adults, rendering it all the more important for those entrusted to safeguard children to take all necessary steps to protect them.
Too many schools either ignore or deny clear bullying incidents out of fear of legal consequence if admitted. I have highlighted before such an approach provokes mistrust and suspicion. It also renders it all the more likely that a defence to a claim of negligence for failing to protect will fail. I have explained before that admitting a mistake naturally diffuses conflict. Admitting a problem constitutes recognition of a need for effective action.
Too many individuals believe that abusive messaging within a murky internet world grants them immunity from sanction including prosecution. They are under a mistaken belief that they may be untouchable. This misconception filters out into the mainstream where prosecution authorities may treat harmful communication or actions as occurrences expected among children and adolescents. Some believe that bullying existed since the dawn of time, and that painful experiences are a part of growing up. However this is not an excuse for inaction, and neither is it an endorsement of how we must approach the future. That is because bullying kills as does driving whilst intoxicated. The harmful consequences of the latter are well known whereas the former perhaps not so.
Two beautiful children Megan Evans and Nyah James both aged 14, recently took their lives as a result of cruel behaviour directed toward them and both of their parents, whilst heartbroken, have campaigned to raise awareness in the hope that others will not face the same devastation.
Raising awareness alone will not be enough. All in positions of responsibility including parents, schools and Government must take action. We should not leave to the imagination of lawyers arguments that require construction such that unless a bold lawyer does something nothing will ever change. Arguably however the law does not necessarily need to change. What needs to change is the manner in which it is enforced.
That is why on behalf of my firm I announce the creation of a private prosecution department. Amongst other offences the private prosecution department will investigate and if necessary deal with the most serious cases of bullying where the state fails to act appropriately and where it is in the public interest. We will not however accept vexatious claims and will at all times largely encourage alternative dispute resolution when appropriate.
Individuals all have rights to bring private prosecutions although the Director of Public Prosecutions has the power to take over the case, progress it or drop it. I shall direct my team to scrutinise such action on behalf of individuals and if such charges are dropped we may assist a victim to hold them to account by raising the matter through the Victims Review Scheme and if necessary before the High Court within Judicial Review.
No case worthy of prosecution on the basis of it being likely to succeed should ever be dropped. We will continue to assist parents and children time and time again so that the issue is raised to such prominence that culture of the kind referred to above changes.
I said before that many problems are caused by a lack of fear for the law, yet schools and individuals who act properly have no cause to worry. However for those intent to flout the obligation to protect children I quote from a previous article that I wrote some weeks ago, the law is a monster with sharp teeth, it touches the untouchable and it will serve you well to fear it.
Sinclairslaw anti bullying event
18th May 2017 4.30pm at Sinclairslaw Headquarters Churchill Way Cardiff. Also
Live on Facebook
All parents, teachers and children are welcome.