Prosecuting Sexual Offences

The challenge
Since the Jimmy Savile revelations there has been a significant increase in historic sexual abuse allegations. The police have launched a number of operations, with Operation Yewtree and Operation Hydrant being the most well-known, with over 1,400 suspects identified between them. The situation is further compounded by crimes committed through the internet.

This increase in accusations has caused the criminal justice system to struggle. The nature and scale of the offences has meant that ever increasing resources are needed to investigate and prosecute, causing other crimes to be neglected and increasing the risk of miscarriages of justice. Recent cases that have collapsed due to non-disclosure of unused material demonstrate the difficulty being faced.

The increased reporting of sexual offences and the grave nature of such offences requires an adequate criminal justice response. The volume, gravity and complexity of these offences requires an adequate response to ensure access to justice for victims and the right to a fair trial for suspects. The aim of this working party is to create recommendations to ensure that there is an adequate response. This will encompass all stages of the criminal justice process: (1) investigation; (2) the decision to charge; (3) prosecution; (4) sentencing and (5) offender programmes and recidivism reduction. Solutions to this issue will undoubtedly require increasing the efficiency of the criminal  justice  response. Where efficiency solutions are considered, these  must take into account the right to a fair trial, and in particular, the presumption of innocence.

The Working Party
This Working Party will examine how the approach to investigation, prosecution and sentence has evolved in light of the increase in reported sexual crime. Its remit will cover England and Wales and Scotland. It will make practical recommendations with a view to reducing the burden on the police, the courts and all other actors in the process. It will specifically address the problems encountered in the prosecution of historic and online offences.

In pursuing its aims, the Working Party will review:

  • the decision to prosecute minor offences, and specifically  young and very old people, to identify whether there are appropriate alternatives in certain circumstances;
  • investigation and prosecution to see whether delay and lengthy processes can be avoided  through, for example, technology, special procedures and dedicated courts; and
  • the treatment and offender programmes available for sex offenders to identify the best options in reducing recidivism.

The Working Party will consider the approach in comparative jurisdictions, and identify best practice solutions where they are relevant to its work. The Working Party’s recommendations will be designed so as not to encroach upon a defendant’s absolute right to a fair trial, or to erode complainant rights in any way.

The members of the working party are: