Whilst female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal in the United Kingdom (UK) since 1985, as of 31 October 2015, doctors in England and Wales (along with other health and social care professionals and teachers) will have a legal obligation to report cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in children to the police, under the Serious Crime Act 2015 (the 2015 Act).

Section 74 of the 2015 Act states as follows:

After section 5A of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. The 2015 adds to the FGM Act 2003 as follows;

5B “Duty to notify police of female genital mutilation”

  1. A person who works in a regulated profession in England and Wales must make a notification under this section (an “FGM notification”) if, in the course of his or her work in the profession, the person discovers that an act of female genital mutilation appears to have been carried out on a girl who is aged under 18.
  2. For the purposes of this section —
    1. a person works in a “regulated profession” if the person is
      1. a healthcare professional,
      2. a teacher, or
      3. a social care worker in Wales;

Under the 2015 Act the duty will arise where a case of FGM is “visually confirmed” or “verbally disclosed”. Disclosures are to be made to the police in cases involving girls under the age of 18.  Cases are to be reported within a month unless there are “exceptional” circumstances which touch on safeguarding issues.

Whilst doctors have a pre-existing ethical duty to raise concerns of this nature, the legal duty will assist with the protection of girls at risk of FGM, or tackling the practice where it has already occurred. Research by the Home Office revealed that previous systems were falling short, and thereby referrals to the police were not occurring as they should be.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has issued guidance for doctors which makes it clear that FGM is not only a serious crime, but also a child protection issue. The GMC’s guidance makes it clear that doctors are expected to adhere to their ethical and legal obligations by reporting any cases where a child or young person is at risk of abuse.

It should be noted that the new legal duty will not apply to women over the age of 18.

Paragraph 17 of the GMC’s Confidentiality guidance states that doctors must disclose information where it is required to satisfy a specific statutory requirement and as such, a failure to make a disclosure in relation to FGM cases could lead to regulatory proceedings.