The Sexual Offences Act 2003 consolidated and updated previous law and legislation in this area. It defines sexual offences that include assault by penetration, rape, grooming and sexual activity with a child. Alleged offences that took place before 2003 will be investigated under previous legislation, and are usually referred to as historic offences. In dealing with historic allegations, there are occasions when the suspect may have aged, affecting their ability to actively participate in proceedings. This could see them deemed unfit to stand trial or unfit to enter pleas to allegations. Sometimes this then leads to an outcome decided in the absence of a defendant and based on an expert medical opinion. We always ensure that with historic offences, clients are assessed based on age before we consider the implications of the allegations. It is important to ensure that the client understands and knows of the allegations as cases can often relate to offences alleged thirty or forty years prior.
Many sexual offence allegations turn on the issue of consent to participate in the activity. Consent is defined as agreement by choice, where there is freedom and capacity to make the choice. This is a contentious subject as often the parties concerned meet in venues where both would have consumed a large amount of alcohol. The question of whether an intoxicated person can give consent has concerned both the prosecution and the defence since the introduction of the Act in 2003. Phone downloads of both the complainant and the suspect showing correspondence between them, can strengthen or undermine the case and is therefore something that we consider during preparation of our clients’ cases.
There have been extremely high profile cases relating to sex offences when disclosure has been problematic but, on finally obtaining such evidence, significantly weakens the prosecution case. It is this kind of litigation that ensures that our clients get the best representation to prepare their defence.
Being accused of a sexual assault can have a huge impact on someone’s life, relationships and work, mainly because of the stigma attached to this type of allegation. Public perception is that you are automatically guilty and must prove your innocence despite some allegations being questionable or made with motive. In the majority of cases the parties are known to each other.
One client of Nicholls & Nicholls was accused of a serious allegation in a domestic setting. It was only after considerable disclosure requests and applications made to the Court forcing the disclosure of evidence and thereafter obtaining expert reports that the prosecution had no choice but to offer no evidence.
Young people often do not appreciate the seriousness of sexual activity with other young people. Nicholls & Nicholls have represented young adults who have engaged with others under the age of 16. In these delicate situations, it is important to ensure that the client has a strong rapport with their lawyer and that we address the issue of age.
Certain types of individuals are not able to give consent by law due to age. These types of cases can be separated into two categories. The first are persons under the age of 13 and the other under 16. For the former, the only defence available is that the act did not happen. For the latter, the defendant must show that they had a reasonable belief the person was not below the age of consent. Simply by proving the age of the complainant is enough to demonstrate that they can not consent. The onus is then on the defendant to convince a jury that it was reasonable to believe that the person was above the legal age. Again, experts in social media communications, phone downloads and deleted data are very much utilised by Nicholls & Nicholls to support a client who raises this as a defence and can be crucial evidence in a case of this nature.
It is becoming more frequent that family members make allegations that culminate into court proceedings. These are always highly emotive and unfortunately not a quick process. These cases have a huge impact not just on the client but on the family as a whole. We do everything we can to ensure that the case runs smoothly, with care and sensitivity as the result, whichever way, will always have an effect on the family makeup. If an allegation cannot be proven by science, it becomes a contentious case of one word against the other.
At Nicholls & Nicholls, we have substantial experience dealing with sex cases as a specialist law firm with a dedicated team, working with leading providers within the forensics industry and recognised specialist barristers for these types of offences.
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