Historic Sexual Offences Guide
Over the past twenty years there has been a significant growth in the prosecution of individuals for historic sexual offences.
The publicity surrounding the alleged scandals of ‘cover up’ in care institutions and schools has fuelled an increase in the number of reports into past abuse and influenced the way said abuse is perceived by the general public.
This backdrop has led to gradual, yet significant, changes within the criminal justice system. Changes to the law of evidence, the way historic sexual offences are investigated by the police and the way trials are conducted have all created a complex and confusing environment to those accused. In many cases, this may not result in the fair trial that people expect in our society.
In this guide, we take an in-depth look into historical sexual offences in the UK, including how these cases are investigated, what level of proof is required for a conviction, and why the guidance of an expert sexual offence solicitors will always prove invaluable.
What makes historic sexual offence cases so complex?
The public perception surrounding historic sexual offences has created a myth that they must be true allegations. Afterall, why would someone simply make them up?
However, the complexity of human behaviour creates multiple reasons for fabricating such an allegation. These can range from simple mistaken memories, confusion and mental health challenges, through to deliberate falsehoods which are designed to extract revenge or are motivated by monetary compensation.
Adding to these complexities are cases where an individual solely relies upon memories from a time when they were very young, which may have been decades ago in some cases. In adulthood, due to stress or drugs for example, an individual’s perceptions of the past can become damaged for a number of reasons, which can potentially leading to fundamental issues relating to the reliability of those memories.
Of course, it is important to note that there are always situations where the memories are in fact true, which means every case needs to be given the same level of attention. Each of these separate challenges creates their own set of fundamental issues that can have a major impact on the fairness of the historical sexual offence trial process.
For many of us, these changes to the criminal justice system are unlikely to have a major impact upon our daily lives. That said, when it is ‘you’ that receives the knock on the door by the police, the consequences on your life can be extremely serious. Ignorance of the system and the belief that the innocent will be automatically protected creates an illusion upon which mistakes are often made.
How hard is it to prove historical abuse?
Historic cases pose significant challenges, especially given the emotive issues that surround child sexual abuse. This means these types of cases are unlike traditional criminal trials.
Each case is unique, containing very different challenges and implications, and time delays mean that gathering and analysis of historic evidence is crucial.
In effect, the combination of public perception and changes to the law means a defendant must prove their innocence through sound evidence, which is often absent, destroyed or potentially unreliable. For the jury to decide whether the complainant is a reliable witness, it is critical that the defence is properly prepared for the difficult process that lies ahead.
When dealing with historic sexual offence allegations made from an institution such as a care home or school setting, the importance of contemporaneous records created by the institution at the time became an important feature.
This is not only in reconstruction of the daily events at the school, but also to determine whether the opportunity to commit the offence existed. This enables the legal team to identify which records are missing and which may lead to a successful stay of the proceedings because no fair trial would be possible.
The use of comprehensive databases and a proactive investigation by the defence team provides a foundation upon which false allegations can be tested before a jury from evidence independent of any defendant. Records such as medical, school and social care are important and requires very careful considerations in preparing for a trial.
Do I need specialist legal advice for my historic sexual offence case?
It is essential that from the very beginning of a case, any individual arrested or requested to attend a police station seeks specialist legal assistance immediately. Attending any police interview for such serious allegations without the assistance of an experienced lawyer can cause significant problems if the case gets to trial.
You should be under no illusion that simply turning up at a police station and telling the police the truth will not stop the prosecution.
For many people, this will be their first experience of being under suspicion of committing a crime. Delay will always cause difficulties for anyone, especially for an individual who is being asked questions about event years before. Essentially, any individual is in the situation where they must prove a negative, that it simply did not happen.
Are ‘Old Laws’ still relevant?
Another important aspect of any historic sexual offence case is that ‘old law’ is still very much relevant to the process. Standards of the legal system which were in place at the time the accused offences were committed are applied to try the case.
Therefore, expert legal advice is required to consider issues such as the age of the accused at the time of the alleged offence and the relevant sentencing powers, especially when the accused offences were committed by a person who was a child at the time of the offending.
These are issues outside the scope of traditional criminal cases and therefore require expert advice.
What is a Defence Case Statement?
The law requires all defendants to provide a written Defence Case Statement. This is an important feature which a barrister will collaborate with a solicitor to provide a full and detailed statement.
This is the document that will trigger the duty of disclosure upon the CPS. It is also important to identify early the legal and factual issues that arise in the case. A poorly drafted Defence Case Statement can create problems to a defendant, meaning it is essential that a full and comprehensive statement is prepared.
Is sexual history admissible in court?
There are also significant challenges in respect of a complainant’s previous sexual history. The law limits the extent whereby any complainant can be questioned about their previous sexual history with anyone other than the accused.
The changing attitudes towards attacking the credibility of a complainant on the basis of their previous sexual behaviour has brought about significant changes to the law. They are often complex, however. In certain circumstances, for example when the individual has made previous complaints against others of a sexual nature, then the right to a fair trial operates. This creates further difficulties and where an experienced legal team will be able to properly advise and make the necessary applications.
Can expert witnesses be used in historic sexual abuse cases?
The use of experts in a criminal trial are jealously guarded against by the criminal courts. The reason is very simply that would be untimely for a jury to decide upon the issues of guilt. However, in areas where the knowledge is outside their understanding, then expert evidence may be adduced before them.
It is not for any expert to decide upon the guilt or otherwise of any defendant. It is their expert knowledge which may assist a jury on a particular point that is admissible. It is only in exceptional cases that an expert may be relevant in a historic case such as memory, childhood amnesia or false memory syndrome.
These matters will be fully explored by your legal team and if relevant, a suitably qualified expert would be instructed together with the necessary applications made to the court for its admission.
Can regular witnesses be called upon?
The identification of witnesses to support the defence is also an important feature which an experienced legal team will undertake. Further, the recovery of evidence such as dates of buying or selling of houses, or attendances at school and evidence to assist in identifying dates is important in preparing for trial, as is the full written instructions from the accused.
The written preparation for these trials forms an important foundation that ensures that no mistakes are made. Whilst, under English law, the burden of proving guilt remains with the Prosecution, experience has shown that in historic allegations a positive proactive preparation is essential.
What will solicitors do to defend you in your historic sexual abuse case?
The approach to defending these cases must be collaborative, with the solicitor and trial barrister ensuring that the accused is fully aware of the issues and process. The consequences of conviction for an individual include the imposition of lengthy prison sentences and the struggle to clear their names before the Criminal Appeal Court. Such issues have become the reality for many individuals accused of historic sexual abuse. Whilst no legal team can guarantee a ‘not guilty’ verdict, they can, with their experience and knowledge of the law in this complex area, ensure that the historic allegations are firmly challenged and that a fair trial is achieved.
Your solicitor or barrister should meet with you to take you through the prosecution case statements and evidence. This will consist of video recorded evidence of the complainant and any witness evidence such as friends or family.
If disclosed and if not, our historic sexual offence solicitors seek disclosure and analyse where it may assist you:
- The prosecution evidence could be from witnesses corroborating the fact that complaints were made to them.
- Social services record, doctor’s records, professional health records, mental health, psychologists, or other records may exist supporting or casting doubt on the alleged abuse may exist and be disclosed.
- School records may exist of complaints made at the school or evidence gathered at school such as a change in performance at school or concerns about health or abuse.
- Forensic or digital evidence if retained or available
- Photographs or video footage from family records if available
- All other disclosure capable of helping your case
We will, where necessary:
- Take your clear instructions on all aspects of the prosecution’s case in the form of a statement.
- Set out a clear history of the matter in detail.
- Create a chart setting out the family history or related parties in the case in detail outlining how each person is connected so that your barrister is clear on your case.
- Take witness statements from your witnesses such as friends or family that can support your defence.
- Set out all the weaknesses in the prosecution case and prepare your argument for cross examination of the prosecution witnesses.
- Prepare a detailed defence case statement requiring the further disclosure required from the prosecution, such as material which has the capability to assist the defence and undermine the prosecution case.
- Arrange for you to meet with and instruct the best specialist historic sex offences barrister on legal aid or private funding.
- Brief a barrister with a detailed analysis of your case in advance and consult you fully in the selection of this barrister. We will arrange for you to meet your barrister to develop a legal strategy to allow you the maximum opportunity to defend yourself.
- Obtain advice from your barrister in writing and orally at meetings.
- Consider making arguments for the defence under Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 as this provides protection to complainants in proceedings involving sexual offences by restricting evidence or questions about their previous sexual history by or on behalf of the accused, subject to exceptions and with the leave of the court.
- Instruct mental health professionals such as psychiatrists or psychologists to support your case where necessary.
- Obtain your health records if they can demonstrate material to support your defence.
We will work with your barrister to be able to build the strongest defence case possible so that if the case proceeds to a full trial, your barrister will be able to make the strongest closing speech to the jury allowing you the best chance to be found not guilty.
Contact our historic sexual offences defence lawyers today
For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice, immediate representation or to speak to us confidentially about allegations of committing a historic sexual offence at any time in the past, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:
- Brent & Camden London Office: 020 7624 7771
- Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
- Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333
- City of London: 020 7624 7771 (our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment in the City)
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
24/7 legal representation for historical sexual offence allegations
Please get in touch for a free initial consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice on dealing with allegations of a historical sexual offence, or any other type of sexual offence.
We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number: 07836 577 556.
How can we help?
We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.
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We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.
Can you get cases dropped?
We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you.
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OUR PROFESSIONAL BODY THE LAW SOCIETY AWARDED US IN OCTOBER 2020 WITH THE EXCELLENCE IN CLIENT SERVICE AWARD AND STATED -
"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".
Do you offer free consultations?
Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about –
- Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
- Public and private funding benefits.
- Assistance in applying for legal aid where we are likely to accept instructions.
- An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
- Providing our free written guide explaining the police station process.
- The gravity of routine and day-to-day offences you face.
- Consequences of not attending the court or police station.
- Consequences of interfering with any witnesses.
- Retaining any evidence in support of your case.
- If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
- This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
- Referring you, if possible, to other firms for matters out of our specialism or if we cannot help.
Consultations do not apply to the following cases –
- If we do not intend to take the case on.
- Road Traffic cases, drink driving, drug driving, driving bans, speeding, no insurance, mobile phone use, points etc.
- In all cases where we do not have the capacity to take your case or the availability of suitably qualified staff to provide an initial free consultation. This is applicable in all cases but especially where a more senior lawyer is required because of your personal needs or the complexity of the case.
- Harassment/stalking/ coercive behaviour/malicious communications or road traffic cases and most sensitive cases. These cases are often too complicated to assess in short consultations.
- The locations concerned may be too distant to represent you adequately or it may not be cost-effective for you or us.
- The case is too complicated to assess or raises various charges or facts, complexity, or history to be considered informally or in a short consultation.
- In most Legal aid transfers where legal aid is granted to another firm except in very grave cases, we may assess the case and merits for a transfer.
- If your relationship has broken down with your existing solicitor or several solicitors.
- If you have been released under investigation and have already had a police station attendance.
- If you hold legal aid with another firm and seek a second opinion.
- If you are calling on behalf of the client as a friend or family member unless you have full authority and full facts.
- To businesses.
- Advising whether you were given good advice by your other solicitor.
- Whether to decide to plead guilty or not guilty.
- Whether you have an arguable defence in law or factually complicated defences.
- Any advice you have had after your first court appearance.
- Any advice on appeal on conviction or sentence.
- If we feel we are unable to communicate with you.
- If we are likely to be conflicted or breach our professional rules.