The number of historic sex crime allegations made in the UK is on the rise. It’s estimated that of the 20% increase in reported sex crimes throughout the UK, over a third of them are historic cases.
Historic sexual assault cases are often extremely difficult and complex, particularly when the alleged offences happened many years ago. Being accused of a historic sex crime is likely to make you feel victimised and alone, considering the stigma behind allegations of this nature.
Your reputation can be quickly and irreparably damaged by rumours and speculation surrounding any allegations of sexual misconduct, so it’s important that you take 3 vital steps to safeguard your reputation and prepare your case:
1. Understand the repercussions
You need to know exactly where you stand, what it is that you are being accused of and what the potential consequences are from the allegations that have been made against you.
The law has changed since the time when some alleged offences may have allegedly taken place. The law that may be applied to historic sexual offences will probably be ‘old law’, dating back to the Sexual Offences Act of 1956. This law doesn’t cover ‘new’ crimes that have taken place.
The current law is governed by the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which:
- Changed the previous law
- Created new offence categories
- Gave offences new titles
- Changed the punishments that the courts could impose
The law now is very different to what it was under the previous 1956 legislation. This is just one of the reasons why it is important to have an expert legal representative who understands both the old laws and system, plus the new ones too.
There is a fundamental principle that the law is not to be applied retrospectively. If this was the case, then everyone who had ever smoked in a car with a child present would be subject to a £50 fine. It’s integral to justice that the law is not applied retrospectively and is even considered a human right by the European Council. This means that charges brought against you will be sentenced based on the law at the time of the offence – including your own circumstances. However, even this is not as clear cut as it might be.
This is because the courts’ approach to historical sexual assault or abuse cases is also intended to reflect public attitudes that are relevant now. This is clearly illustrated in the case of historic sex offences. In 1960, the maximum sentence for indecent assault on an underage girl was 2 years’ imprisonment. Since then, new categories of offence have been introduced under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003.
In the case of Rolf Harris, he was convicted of committing crimes during the 1960s and as such, the maximum sentence he was issued for a single charge was 15 months’ imprisonment. Depending on the circumstances, long-term imprisonment may not always be a consequence as the court will look at the overall picture – including, for example:
- The number of alleged offences
- Whether there was a breach of trust where the accuser was considered particularly vulnerable
- Whether the accused was in a special position that enabled the offence(s) to take place
2. Consider the accuser’s motives
If you are accused of an historical sex crime, there is a very good chance that you will know your accuser personally and you may have even regularly interacted with them. It’s for this reason that historic sex crime allegations are relatively unique – it means you can gain an insight into why the accuser is making accusations and may allow you to create an even more robust defence strategy.
There are some fairly common reasons why complainants have started initiating proceedings for historical sex crimes, including:
- Seeking financial gain in the form of a payoff or compensation
- Seeking revenge for a familial break up
- Seeking revenge for ulterior motives which can be involved and complex, perhaps due to psychological or psychiatric issues
- Acting on circumstantial evidence in a perceived quest for justice
It is perceived that false allegations are rarely prosecuted, so it’s vital you consider the possible motives of your accusers to help build a strong defence strategy.
As many historic sex crime cases are underpinned on the word of the complainant, it is imperative that a forensic examination of the evidence takes place to expose any inconsistencies that exist, often by looking at alternative sources of evidence or by finding independent witnesses that can expose inconsistencies.
In turn, this can have a snowball effect in undermining the whole case against you, which can result in truths being established and justice being achieved. It takes a solid strategy to exploit any untruths and weaken any accusatory case.
3. Seek expert help
With the advice and expertise of a specialist legal team, you will be able to talk through the intricacies of your case with a criminal defence solicitor with a robust knowledge of historical sex crime law. The process is complex and can be lengthy, so it will require patience and perseverance.
Finding the right defence strategy is key to achieving a positive outcome and acting on the advice of an experienced criminal defence solicitor will enable you to take the right actions and cooperate with the police without jeopardising your defence case.
Many historic sexual assault cases begin with a verbal statement or accusation, as physical evidence isn’t likely to exist as a result of the age of the accusations. Statements can also be unreliable evidence where witnesses or accusers are referring to events alleged to have occurred many years ago, particularly with allegations of crimes in the very distant past.
You have been accused – what should you do next?
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was widely criticised for failing to prosecute in high-profile sexual assault and abuse cases throughout 2014. The police have also been extensively criticised in recent years for failing to take action historically. The misgivings and perceived failures of the police – as highlighted by Operation Yew Tree and the high profile cases of various former celebrities including Rolf Harris, Sir Cliff Richard and Jimmy Savile – has led to a highly proactive investigation of all such historic allegations.
In relation to historic sexual offences, the current attitude of the police and CPS differs considerably to several years ago. In the event that an allegation is made of an historic nature, it is perceived by some that the CPS may now prosecute a case without substantial corroborative evidence, where they would previously have been reluctant to do so.
In practice, if you are accused of such an offence, regrettably it means that police and Crown Prosecution Service may be more willing to act upon historic sex crime allegations than ever before.
An allegation of a historic sex crime can be a particularly challenging area of the law, particularly as it is only a relatively new development given the previous approaches adopted by the authorities. It’s vital that you appoint a criminal defence solicitor with expertise in historic and present law to achieve the best possible outcome for you. Contact us for advice, assistance or to discuss the intricacies of your case.