Guide to Sarah’s Law (Child Sex Disclosure Scheme)

According to recent data and government statistics, there are more than 62,000 people on the Sex Offenders Register in the UK. This can be extremely worrying for parents and guardians knowing the staggering number of predators living in their communities. So what can you do if you are concerned about the safety of a child?

This guide explains how you could be entitled to find out if there are any registered sex offenders living near you under Sarah’s Law.

What is Sarah’s Law & when was it passed?

Sarah’s Law is officially known as the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, it was introduced on 4 April 2011 and allows people in England and Wales to ask the police to reveal whether someone who has access to a child has been convicted or suspected of child abuse. The application for such a request can be made by anyone, for example, a grandparent or neighbour can make the request, however, the police will normally disclose the details to the parents or guardians of the child.

Why was Sarah’s Law created?

Sarah’s Law was introduced following the abduction and murder of 8-year-old Sarah Payne by paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000.  The tragedy of Sarah’s death led to the start of the Child Sex Disclosure Scheme, the aim of this scheme was to protect children from such horrific attacks in the future.

Who campaigned for Sarah’s Law?

After the violent killing of Sarah Payn, Sarah’s devastated parents Michael and Sara Payn teamed up with the News of the World to launch a campaign for law enforcement on sex offenders. The campaign called for the law to adopt the British version of what is known as “Megan’s Law” in the United States. This would require the police to disclose information on sex offenders to the public for the safeguarding of children. However, in the US, the scheme allows much more disclosure, the names and addresses of paedophiles are publicised including pictures in some states. In the UK the disclosure is confidential and is only made to the parent or carer of the child, and the person who is given the information is not allowed to share this with anybody else.

How do I make a Sarah’s Law request?

You can make an online application by completing a ‘Child Sex Offenders Disclosure Scheme application form’. Alternatively, you may wish to visit a police station to make the application or contact the non-emergency number on 101 to make your request. These calls are taken by specially trained individuals who will take more details about the application, including the details of the child you feel may be at risk and the individual you are concerned about who has contact with the child.

What disclosure can I get via Sarah’s Law?       

It is important to know that disclosure is not always guaranteed, the police will only share information with the child’s parent or guardian if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so for the protection of the child. If the individual being checked has a record of sexual offences or other offences that indicate they may pose a risk to a child then this information will be shared with the parent or guardian.

Has Sarah’s law been Successful?

A twelve-month pilot scheme was launched in 2008, and police forces in Cleveland, Cambridgeshire, Warwickshire and Hampshire took part in this scheme. The pilot led to 600 inquiries, 315 applications and 21 disclosures. 43 cases resulted in other actions such as referrals to social services and 11 general disclosures were made regarding protection issues due to violent offending. Upon the conclusion of this pilot scheme, Home office Ministers declared it as being a success through which 60 children were protected.

What Updates Have Been Made To Sarah’s Law

The 2023 enhancements to Sarah’s Law include the introduction of an online application system, making it easier for the public to request information. This adds to the existing phone and in-person methods. Additionally, the timeframe for processing applications has been significantly reduced from 44 days to 28 days, ensuring a faster response. The law now also includes a formalised process for proactive disclosure by the police, ensuring quick and accurate information sharing to protect children. To facilitate the process, police forces can now use video or phone calls for certain stages. Furthermore, Sarah’s Law has been aligned with the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), allowing for more efficient information sharing between the two schemes. These updates collectively aim to enhance child protection measures.

Sarah’s Law Stats & Data

From the year the scheme was introduced in 2011 to the year 2019, 8,958 applications were made by the members of the public based on 22 police forces that supplied comparable data. However incomplete data from other forces suggest the total number of applications was as high as 16,900. From 2011- 2012 there were 873 disclosures made, in the year 2018- 2019 there were 1553 disclosures made. The rise in applications shows how people are becoming more aware and vigilant of child abuse, and demonstrates a higher level of interest in trying to protect children.

What Is Megan’s Law and how did it influence Sarah’s Law?

Megan’s Law, introduced in the U.S. after the tragic murder of Megan Kanka by a known sex offender, marked a pivotal shift in legal approaches to sex offender information. This law’s focus on community protection and the right to know about potential risks in neighborhoods significantly inspired the UK’s approach, embodied in Sarah’s Law. The impact of Megan’s Law on global child safety legislation is profound, setting a precedent for transparent sharing of sex offender data to enhance public safety.

Have there been any challenges or downsides to Sarah’s Law?

One of the difficulties with the scheme is, some individuals will not appear on the register, yet they may still pose a risk to children, this has been highlighted as a concern by some children’s charities. Most sexual abuse cases are unreported, as such a police check can come back as ‘no concern’ of such individuals, creating a false sense of security and putting children at risk.

Another challenge people experience with Sarah’s Law is the confidentiality of the disclosure. When the police reveal the information to the parent or guardian, as part of the conditions they have to sign a non-disclosure form which prevents the person from sharing the information with others. This can be problematic for someone who has discovered through a police disclosure, the person living next door has been jailed for having indecent images of children on his computer. In this situation, the parent would naturally want to protect other children living in the street too. However, this could lead to a potential charge under the Data Protection Act and possibly a court trial, for trying to protect other children.

Can I speak to anyone else about the disclosure I receive?

The disclosure is confidential, once the police release the information, you must not share this with anyone and just use it to keep your child safe. The police will ask you to sign a non-disclosure form when they provide you with the information. Legal action may be taken against you if you have breached the confidentiality of the disclosure.

Can I get information about a partner, family member or anyone else I know?

You can get information on anybody if you are able to provide the police with reasonable suspicion that the person you are concerned about may be a risk to the child. The individual must have access or contact with the child, for example, if a single mother meets a man but does not know enough about him to introduce him to her children, she can contact the police to make the request. The police are unlikely to disclose information in cases where the individual does not have access to the child.

We understand how difficult it is to experience abuse, whether it is yourself or someone you know, sometimes trying to find help is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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