Sexual Offences: Your Questions Answered

April 29, 2019

What should I do if I am accused of a sexual offence?

If you have been accused of a sexual offence, it is crucial you seek expert legal advice at the soonest opportunity. Early advice could mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. Our sexual offences experts can advise you every step of the way to ensure you have a robust defence strategy and the best possible chance of a favourable outcome.

What if I have been falsely accused of a sexual offence?

Get in touch with an expert sexual offences lawyer immediately. Many people think, to their detriment, that if they did not commit the offence their innocence will be enough to see them through. As a consequence, they don’t feel the need to act quickly, or to instruct an expert. This is simply not the case – if you are wrongly accused and do not have the best defence available to you, you run the very real risk of being convicted for a crime you did not commit.

What is the law on consent in relation to sexual offences?

The law provides that a serious sexual offence will not have been committed where a complainant gave their consent and the accused had a reasonable belief that the complainant had given their consent or was old enough to give their consent (i.e. aged 16 or over). Although many of the sexual offences contained in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, such as rape and sexual assault, can be committed against any person no matter their age, consent is irrelevant when it is alleged that a serious sexual offence was committed against a child.

Whether a belief in consent is reasonable is determined objectively and according to all the circumstances of the case, raising evidential issues for both the prosecution and the defence. In some circumstances, such as where the complainant was asleep or unconscious when the incident is alleged to have taken place, the law presumes that there was no consent or a belief in consent. This places a burden on the defence to show sufficient evidence to raise an issue about consent or their belief in consent.

Where an allegation is made that rape was committed prior to May 2004, an accused person may be charged under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which has a different definition of consent. Under that Act, the crime of rape will not be committed if the accused honestly, and subjectively, believed the other party consented. Similarly, where an accusation is made of sexual assault occurring before 2004, a defendant person may be charged with indecent assault under the 1956 Act, which is also likely to require an absence of consent in order to establish criminal liability.

When will I get my phone/computer back from the police?

Property being used in the investigation process will be retained until the investigation is complete. Even if you are not charged, the police will hold onto the property if they are still investigating the case.

After you have been acquitted or convicted, or the case has been closed, you will be told when to attend or send a representative to the police station to collect your property.

Some police forces will hold the property at the local police station until it is claimed. There will be a process of disposal after a certain amount of time, however, with many police stations holding property for around 6 months, after which it is transferred to a central property holding centre.

Can I protect my identity if accused of a sexual offence?

Normally, the police will not release the name or any identifying details of individuals who are suspected of carrying out a sexual offence or have been arrested in connection with a sexual offence, other than in exceptional circumstances, such as where disclosure is in the public interest. For example, allegations of historic sexual abuse cases, as the crimes are of such a serious nature that police are more likely to believe disclosure to be in the interest of the public.

Will a criminal charge or conviction affect my fitness to practise my profession?

Many professions are regulated to make sure that members of that profession meet certain standards that are expected of them and required to carry out their role.

If allegations of criminal conduct in relation to a professional person arise, this may raise concerns about fitness to practise in that profession.

Criminal allegations may lead to a regulatory investigation by the body responsible for regulating the profession of the accused in order to assess their fitness to practise in light of any alleged criminal behaviour.

What is a defence statement?

A defence statement, drafted by a criminal defence solicitor, sets out the nature of the accused’s defence. It must be submitted to the prosecutor and the court, and contains details of any witnesses, an interpretation of the prosecutor’s evidence and requests for disclosure of third-party documents.

In the defence statement, all of the issues the defence has with reliability and credibility of evidence must be raised and addressed. Furthermore, where “course of conduct” allegations are made (where multiple incidents are alleged to have occurred over a certain period of time), accusations and impressions that are misleading can be countered in the defence statement.

Is there a time limit on historic sexual abuse investigations and charges?

There is no time limit to when sexual offences may be prosecuted in the UK. A formal complaint of sexual abuse may be made even decades after the alleged incident occurred, but this will not affect how the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will investigate and enforce the law.

The complaint will be investigated by the police and if sufficient evidence emerges and it is deemed to be in the public interest, then an individual may be prosecuted by the CPS.

What kind of evidence can be used in a historic sexual abuse allegation?

As with all criminal cases, the credibility, reliability and consistency of witness statements and evidence are the most important factors in establishing the truth. However, ensuring the reliability of evidence in historic sexual abuse cases is exceptionally challenging – especially when the evidence may be decades old. As a result of the long period of time which may have elapsed since the alleged sexual abuse occurred and when it is finally reported to police, it is unlikely there will be any physical or scientific evidence.

This means that the most common types of evidence are witness statements and “third party disclosure”, such as social services reports, psychologist reports and education and medical records.

The complexity of some disclosure issues may mean forensic examination of vast amounts of material which, when viewed by the prosecution, may lead them to believe that there are no longer reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.

Therefore, requesting this party disclosure evidence is an important part of a defence strategy.

Sexual Offences Solicitors Manchester UK

If you believe that you have been wrongly convicted (or sentenced) or that one of your friends or family have been so convicted, in relation to a sexual offences case, please contact Stuart on 0808 164 6795 or 0808 169 5980.

Stuart has been in practice since 1987 and has throughout most of that time been involved in defending clients accused of sexual offences, be they against individuals or internet crimes. He has acted for clients who have been charged with sexual assaults, rape, offences against children, making pornographic images and related crimes.  He has a nationwide practice and divides his time between our Manchester and London offices, where he meets with his clients to take instructions and prepares documents.