As a result of greater public awareness of allegations of sexual abuse and technological developments that have made it easier to commit sexual crimes online, we have seen a rise in the number of allegations and prosecutions of sexual offences in recent years.
Under the law, the police and prosecution service have extensive powers and courts are given discretion to hand down significant sentences. The gravest cases of rape are likely to result in life imprisonment. However, it’s not just lengthy custodial sentences that defendants face: judges can require an offender to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register and can issue a Sexual Offences Prevention Order to restrict an offender’s conduct. Add to this the stigma attached to crimes of this nature and it’s clear that defendants’ liberty, relationships, careers and reputation are all at risk.
Following allegations of a sexual offence, an accused person will be interviewed by the police. Even where that person feels confident they can prove their innocence at this stage, due to the complexity of such cases, it is strongly advised that legal assistance is sought. What is said at the police interview can have a considerable impact on the rest of the case. A competent and experienced defence firm will explain the options available, recommend the best course of action and protect the accused’s legal rights. Our firm has significant experience in defending clients against sex crime allegations. We operate a 24 hour support service for advice on such matters.
At Harris Solicitors, we understand that facing sexual offence allegations can be very concerning and confusing. Here we aim to answer some questions you may have on the law and court proceedings and to show that with a well-prepared defence and a strong approach, a satisfactory outcome is possible for defendants.
The main laws on sexual offences exist in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Act and subsequent judgments have created an extensive and complex body of law. Sexual offence cases are rarely straightforward; they present a number of challenges for both the prosecution and the defence and, therefore require a comprehensive knowledge of the law. Various sexual crimes are covered by the 2003 Act including rape, sexual assault, child pornography and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Each offence is made up of certain elements which must be present before there can be a finding of guilt. In a lot of serious sexual offence cases, for example rape and sexual assault, the element of consent dominates. Where the complainant consented or the accused had a reasonable belief that the complainant had given consent, the crime has not been committed. It is for this reason that the defence case is often based on claims that consent was present or the defendant reasonably believed this was the case. However, neither of these circumstances are easy to prove, particularly where the allegations relate to a historic incident or where all that’s involved is one person’s word against another’s.
Serious sexual offence cases are heard at the Crown Court and proceedings for less serious incidents take place in a magistrates’ court without a jury.
Due to the highly sensitive nature of such cases, there can be complications and difficulties for complainants and other prosecution witnesses when giving evidence in court. Consequently, there are a number of measures in place to protect vulnerable witnesses and to ensure the quality of evidence. For example, in some situations it is permitted for witnesses to deliver their statement via a video link or from behind a screen. Furthermore, strict measures can be put in place to safeguard a vulnerable complainant’s anonymity.
While it may seem like defendants are at a disadvantage under the law, the accused’s defence team are there to make sure that their rights are preserved throughout the court proceedings, to forcefully challenge the allegations and to aim for the best outcome possible.
Our solicitors have years of experience dealing with sexual offence cases, both in large-scale multi-defendant and smaller, single defendant cases. We continue to represent accused persons in sexual offence cases as they continue to frequently emerge.
We have an excellent reputation in this area, often obtaining acquittals for our clients. In the case of R v Cairney, allegations of sexual offences were made by more than one complainant against the defendant, who owned a driving school business. We advised and represented the defendant during the full length trial at Bradford Crown Court, following which the defendant was acquitted of all charges.
We believe our success is down to our experience and determined approach. Preparation is key to defending crimes of a sexual nature. The defence must diligently examine all the evidence submitted by the police and prosecution and gather their own evidence, especially from third parties and experts. Such evidence can help identify false statements, insufficient evidence and other problems with the reliability and credibility of the prosecution’s evidence. A methodical approach can often lead to the case being dropped early, an acquittal or a lesser sentence imposed. The case of R v Raza is an example of how our rigorous approach resulted in a serious sexual offence case being discontinued against our client.
Our lawyers fully appreciate how devastating allegations of sexual offences can be, their highly sensitive nature and all that is at risk. We treat you and your case with care in order to minimise the impact it has on your life and guarantee confidentiality throughout.
If you have been accused of committing a sexual offence, contact Harris Solicitors without delay on 01274 392 177. If your matter is urgent and you need to speak to us outside office hours, please use our 24 hour contact numbers (07872835267 or 07590289197).
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