Historic sexual offences are allegations of sexual offences that are made a long time after the alleged incident. The allegations can relate to a single incident or multiple events. The accused could have been a stranger or known the complainant in a professional or familial capacity (including marital rape which in the past was not considered an offence).
The fact that there is a delay in making the allegation will not mean that it will not be taken seriously by the police and there are no time bars in making allegations of sexual abuse. These cases are hugely complex but also highly emotive and controversial often involving wide media exposure. Cases of historic sexual abuse will be prosecuted under the relevant law at the time of the offence (so often this is under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, although the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will apply to incidents after 1st May 2004) and so this can make them complicated both legally and evidentially. It is vitally important that you receive expert legal advice as soon as any allegations are made to ensure the best possible outcome.
What are the specific issues relating to historic sexual offences?
It is incredibly important to ensure that there is a robust defence compiled in relation to any claim of historic sexual offences. The first time an accused may know about an allegation can be when the police turn up on the doorstep or call them to attend the station for a “chat”. It is important that the accused realises how serious these conversations can be especially if they are unprepared or unrepresented by a lawyer.
There are often evidential issues in relation to these types of cases due to the time that has passed since the alleged offence is supposed to have taken place. This can make it very hard to defend these types of cases. It is unlikely that there will be any forensic evidence or any other corroborating evidence. It can be very difficult to obtain relevant evidence due to the passage of many years. The accuracy of any memories of the relevant parties and even witnesses is likely to have altered over time. Many of these cases can involve false or transferred memory, collusion or false confession. The fact that there have been some very high-profile cases as well as Operation Yew Tree has highlighted failures by the police in this area. Therefore, there is greater pressure for prosecutions to proceed where allegations are made. This means that prosecutions can be brought even with little evidence which can mean that there is a risk to real justice since it is often hard for the jury to distinguish between a real victim and someone who has raised an allegation for other reasons. It is also possible that the accused is now quite old and can have mental or physical health issues that can impact on the case. It can be necessary to have expert psychiatrists perform assessments to determine whether they have the capacity to defend the allegation.
A key issue in these cases is ensuring there is full third-party disclosure to ensure a full defence can be mounted in the particular circumstances. It is important to consider all documentation in relation to the complainant including their social services records, employment details as well as details of any previous allegations. Every statement made by the complainant needs to be thoroughly checked to determine if there are any inconsistencies or facts that would be useful for the defence. This can include the accounts that were given to different people over the period of time since the alleged offence. Another important factor for the defence will be learning as much about the circumstances surrounding the offence as possible, particularly where the parties were known to each other.
It is also very important to focus on the credibility of the accused since this will be the main (if not only) evidence that can be supplied for the defence in the absence of any scientific evidence. Ensuring that inadmissible, unreliable or irrelevant evidence is strongly contested as part the defence is vitally important.
Right to a fair trial
Under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, everyone has the right to a fair trial. This will be a significant consideration in cases of historical sexual abuse where many years have passed since the alleged incident and there is often very little physical or scientific evidence. It is important to ensure that the evidence used against the accused is credible and does not undermine the accused’s human rights.
Factors that will affect sentencing
If the accused is found guilty of an historic sexual offence then there are various matters that will be considered by the courts in relation to their sentencing:
- The number of alleged offences as well as complainants.
- The nature of the allegation is obviously very important.
- If there is a breach of trust involved in the offence.
- If the complainant is considered particularly vulnerable.
- If the accused had a special position that allowed the offence to take place.
- Factors such as the age of the victim at the time of the offence.
- The age of the defendant at the time of the incident as well as now are also important factors.
- Whether or not it was an isolated incident and if there are multiple accusations then the time period that the offences covered will also be considered.
- The harm suffered by the victim.
- Any previous convictions of the defendant.
- The court will also examine the lifestyle of the defendant since the incident. Where the defendant has lead a blameless life since the offence then this will be taken into account by the court as a mitigating factor. Mark Kelly, Historic Sexual Offences Barrister in London, UK
Mark Kelly, Historic Sexual Offences Barrister in London, UK
My professional experience, approachability and considerable expertise means that you will be in a very safe pair of hands when it comes to your defence, and my track record is second to none. I consistently obtain favourable results for clients accused of a variety of sexual offences.
In cases that I am instructed in relating to historic sexual offences, I invariable work with Stuart Sutton from Tuckers Solicitors, who has a national practice and many years of experience in these cases. He has a profound knowledge and an understanding of the myriad of issues that arise.
Serving Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Bristol and the rest of the UK. If you have any queries about issues raised in this blog, or if you want to discuss your case, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me directly on +44 020 8108 7186 or fill out a contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.