Failure to report child sex abuse that occurred before change in law is still punishable, rules Supreme Court

Notes from Poland [Kraków, Poland]

July 4, 2022

Poland’s Supreme Court has ruled that a person can be held criminally liable for failing to report cases of child sexual abuse even if they occurred before July 2017, when a law making it obligatory to inform the authorities of such crimes came into force.

The state commission on sexual crimes against minors has hailed the “landmark ruling” as a boost for victims of abuse seeking justice. One liberal media outlet, meanwhile, describes it as “bad news for bishops”, some of whom have been accused of covering up cases of abuse within Poland’s Catholic church.

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued a response to questions submitted by lower courts in the cities of Kalisz and Wrocław, who asked if people could be held legally responsible for failing to report cases of child sex abuse that took place before the 2017 change in the law, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

The Supreme Court found that they could, with judge Rafał Malarski saying that “failure to inform the law enforcement authorities about [such crimes] immediately after the entry into force of the [new] law could strengthen perpetrators with a sense of impunity and create the real danger of further offences”.

The court noted that its ruling did not violate the principle of retroactivity because those who had learnt of abuse before July 2017 only had a legal obligation to report it after the change in law went into force that month.

Under that new law, a person can face up to three years in jail if they fail to report acts – or even planned acts – of sexual activity with a minor as well as other offences including showing pornographic content to a minor.

The Supreme Court’s ruling stemmed from an appeal originally filed in Kalisz by the state commission on sexual crimes against minors. It opposed a decision by prosecutors not to investigate an individual accused of failing to report crimes he had learnt about before July 2017.

“This spectacular ruling by the Supreme Court is a deep sign of respect to those who have bravely spoken out about the harm” they have suffered, the head of the commission, Błażej Kmieciak, told PAP on Friday., a liberal investigative journalism outlet, notes that the Supreme Court’s decision could have an impact on cases against bishops accused of failing to investigate – and even of deliberately covering up – cases of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy.

It notes that Kmieciak’s commission has on at least two occasions notified prosecutors of the suspected concealment of sexual crimes by six current and former bishops.

Among them is Sławoj Leszek Głódź, the former archbishop of Gdańsk, who was last year one of a number of Polish bishops, including the former bishop of Kalisz, punished by the Vatican for “negligence” in dealing with cases of child sex abuse.

Another is Stanisław Dziwisz, former personal secretary to Pope John Paul II, who has been accused of ignoring sex abuse both during his time in the Vatican and as archbishop of Kraków. However, a Vatican investigation earlier this year cleared him of wrongdoing.