Sexual Offences FAQs

1) What should I do if I am accused of a sexual offence?

2) What if I have been falsely accused?

3) What if I am contacted by the police?

4) Why do I need a solicitor if I haven’t done anything wrong?

5) What about consent?

6) The police have taken my computer/mobile phone. When will I get it back?

7) Isn’t it just someone’s word against mine?

8) How long will the process take?

9) What happens if I am charged?

10) Will my name be published in the media?

 

1) What should I do if I am accused of a sexual offence?

Even if you have not yet been contacted by the police you should speak to a criminal defence lawyer. On no account should you try to contact the person making the allegation. If you have any records of communication with your accuser (emails, text messages, call records, letters), make sure to preserve them.

2) What if I have been falsely accused?

False allegations of sexual offences can be made for a number of reasons. Do not try to contact the complainant – directly or indirectly - under any circumstances. Your first step should be to contact a criminal defence lawyer and obtain specialist advice. You should then allow your lawyer to take any further action deemed necessary and you should not conduct your own enquiries.

3) What if I am contacted by the police?

In many cases the police, who are obliged to investigate allegations of sexual offences, will seek to arrest suspects without advance notice. In such a situation, you have the right to be represented at the police station. Under no circumstances should you agree to be interviewed by the police without first obtaining legal advice.

In some cases the police may ask you to attend an interview voluntarily (without arrest). Again, your first step should be to contact a criminal defence lawyer who can liaise with the police and ensure the process is conducted fairly and properly.

4) Why do I need a solicitor if I haven’t done anything wrong?

It is a very common misconception that being represented by a solicitor in a police interview means that you have something to hide. The reality is that sexual offences are legally complex and without proper legal advice you will be significantly disadvantaged. Crucially, if you are legally represented you are entitled to “disclosure” before any interview. This means that the police will provide some advance notice about the allegation(s) and what they want to question you about. If you do not have a lawyer, there is no requirement for the police to provide disclosure and you will go into the interview entirely unprepared.

5) What about consent?

Consent is one of the most important concepts in sexual offences. Simply put, consent is an agreement by a person who has the freedom and capacity to agree. However the issues of consent become more complex when you consider that, even if person A alleges that they were involved in a non-consensual sexual act with person B, it has to be proved that B did not reasonably believe A was consenting.

The question of intoxication – and its effect on consent – is a regular feature of sexual offence allegations. Because of the complexity of the issue, you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible.

6) The police have taken my computer/mobile phone. When will I get it back?

The seizure of electronic equipment is standard procedure in many police investigations. Once items have been taken, they may be submitted to a forensic laboratory for “interrogation”. This process can take many months to complete (unless the case is given a high priority, and most are not). This can cause serious inconvenience to those under investigation and steps can be taken by solicitors to obtain copies of any data seized.

7) Isn’t it just someone’s word against mine?

The nature of sexual offences mean that most allegations are of conduct that took place in private, and it is rare to have third party witnesses. The police do not require additional witnesses and a prosecution can be based on the word of just one person.

8) How long will the process take?

There is no straightforward answer because much depends on the nature of the allegations themselves and how the police decide to deal with it. Generally speaking, sexual offences take longer to investigate than many other criminal matters. If historic allegations are involved then an investigation may take many months. If charges follow then the matter is dealt with in court and will take considerably longer to come to an end.

9) What happens if I am charged?

You will be required to appear at court. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, the case may take place at either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. Cases move more quickly in the Magistrates Court but in the event of a not guilty plea, proceedings will last a number of months. In the Crown Court, where trials are heard in front of a jury, it can take up to a year (and sometimes longer) for a case to come to trial.

10) Will my name be published in the media?

While in many sexual offence cases the complainant is entitled to anonymity, if you are prosecuted there is little that can be done to prevent publication of your identity (unless it might lead to the identification of, for example, a child). Prior to charge, however, we have a strong track record in defending and protecting individuals’ rights to privacy and anonymity. Allegations of sexual misconduct carry a particular stigma and we recognise how important it is to minimise public exposure.

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Chambers UK, A Clients Guide to the UK Legal Profession, 2015
 

"Commentators single out John Harding for having a "very clear mind" and being a "good strategic thinker."

Chambers UK, A Clients Guide to the UK Legal Profession, 2014
 

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