Need a specialist sexual offence defence lawyer in the UK? Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready to deliver expert legal advice and assistance. For more information, please contact Stuart Sutton on 07798 753 720.
If you are facing sexual offence allegations do not hesitate to speak to a specialist sexual offence solicitor – early representation from an expert could mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. We understand the stress you may be under when facing such charges, however it is crucial you speak to a specialist as soon as possible to ensure your case is handled properly from the early stages, where one small statement could have a detrimental effect. Our team of highly experienced solicitors are specialists in our field. We handle the most complex sexual offence cases, and often take on high profile cases receiving wide media coverage. Our tenacious solicitors work tirelessly, carefully dissecting evidence to create a robust defence strategy that will ensure you achieve the best possible outcome.
Serious Sexual Offences & Consent
Consent is often central to serious sexual offence investigations and can be very difficult to prove or disprove. The law provides that a serious sexual offence will not have been committed where a complainant has given 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 – consent is irrelevant when the complainant is under 13, see more on child sex offences).
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 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.
A particular difficulty with such historic sex defence cases is the lack of evidence available due to the passage of time. Often it will be the complainant’s word against the defendant’s, with the result that the defendant may find that they have to vigorously lead a defence, despite the presumption of innocence. As specialist sexual offence lawyers, we work hard to defend our clients all the way and have often had evidence removed because of the unreliability of the source. A person has a right to a fair trial, which would be compromised if the prosecution’s case was based on recounts of witnesses with faded memories of the events in question or inconsistent statements.
Defending Allegations of Indecent Assault & Sexual Offences
While criminal justice agencies increasingly hone their techniques for identifying suspects who commit offences online, such as accessing indecent images, and allegations made against those in the public eye or positions of trust continue to draw the attention of the press and public, it can occasionally be overlooked that many individuals alleged of committing a sexual offence have not been previously cautioned or convicted of a sexual crime. As such, it is important to remember that accusations of serious sexual offences do not create impossible situations – there are always options.
What is common to all sexual offence cases is their complexity and fact-specific nature, raising many issues for both the prosecution and defence when it comes to the cogency of legal arguments and evidence. Although individuals are increasingly being targeted by those under pressure to prosecute sexual offences, robust and thought-out representation at all stages, from initial police interview and investigation to criminal proceedings, ensures the rights of those accused are protected.
When defending allegations of indecent assault or other sexual offences, the importance of defence statements and the quality of the production of third party evidence and medical evidence cannot be overstated. They involve a deep engagement of the facts of the case and require forensic investigations into the credibility and reliability of witnesses and the accuracy of the evidence. There are many situations where a case may be terminated early or a defendant discharged because of the force of a properly drafted defence statement. For example, defence statements can highlight:
- the accuracy of allegations, which may be false or exaggerated, either due to false memory or arising out of malice;
- medical evidence, which assists the defendant, admonishing the accused, such as illnesses that affects sexual performance; or
- insufficient evidence as to the identification of the suspect, alleged motive or withholding of consent.
Also, disclosure requests may be made, which result in the production of material held by third parties such as social services, which can often shed a different light on the relationship between the complainant and the defendant. This is especially the case in relation to foster carers.
By raising such issues, defence statements seek to identify points overlooked by the police and prosecution that show that the case is manifestly unfounded and unlikely to result in conviction. Alternatively, an initial charge may be downgraded to a less serious offence.
Witness Statements and Special Measures
Although medical statements, hospital admissions, forensic examinations, independent witness statements and other forms of evidence are often relevant to a sexual offence case, the prosecution’s principal form of evidence is likely to be a witness statement made by the complainant. Such evidence is often decisive to the case against a defendant and demands special attention.
In all sexual offence cases, the complainant is first recorded on video answering questions asked by police. During this interview, police must adhere to the Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) code and not ask questions that are leading or forced-choice or that could otherwise contaminate the interview process and the witness’s account. They are also under a duty to identify evidential inconsistencies or omissions.
Where a case goes to trial, special measures are available in court for those giving evidence who are considered vulnerable or allege sexual misfeasance by the defendant. Such special measures include giving evidence from behind a screen or, sometimes, via video link or in private. Video recorded statements or interviews may also be (and usually are) admissible as evidence-in-chief. Importantly, whether special measures are suitable is decided by the court, which must ask itself whether measures are likely to improve the quality of the evidence given by the witness and in the interests of justice.
Although the ABE code and special measures have been introduced to support complainants, they can have profound implications for defendants. An element of the right to a fair trial is the requirement that a defendant be given an adequate and proper opportunity to challenge and question a witness, yet special measures may diminish the effectiveness of cross-examination, putting a defendant at a substantial disadvantage. For instance, where a video recorded statement, obtained without following the ABE code, is admissible as evidence-in-chief, it may not be possible for a meaningful cross-examination to take place. It is therefore vital that criminal defence lawyers are aware of these potential issues and minimise, as best they can, the chances of the defendant suffering prejudice.
Unfortunately, the disproportionate protections afforded to witnesses compared to defendants aren’t restricted to those identified above. Those accused of serious sexual offences, such as rape, may wish to be protected from the damaging consequences of false allegations. Yet defendants aren’t offered the same lifelong anonymity provided to complainants of rape and other sexual offences. View our Sexual Offences FAQs.
Contact Our Sexual Offences Defence Lawyers (London, Birmingham, Manchester)
Our robust defence preparation, attention to detail and professional representation makes us the first choice for criminal defence. These key traits are essential to safeguarding the rights of our clients from allegations of criminal activity. We discuss all the available options in order to find and implement the best course of action.
Our expert sexual offence solicitors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready to advise and assist. For more information, please contact Stuart Sutton on 07798 753 720.