Belfast Telegraph

DPP urged to reassure 'rape clause' claimants they won't face the law

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 so-called '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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