The number of cases involving sexual allegations is rising and public awareness is high, given the recent convictions of Rolf Harris and Max Clifford. These cases both involved historical allegations.
Much commentary focused on conduct viewed down the lens of time and how sentencing for such cases should and could be approached today. The law has become increasingly complex in this area and beset with difficulties for the unwary.
Most practitioners who conduct trials involving sexual offences do not carry around with them old editions of textbooks from before the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force. Given the number of historical cases in the courts, the “old” law can be hard to find and collate at short notice when preparing a trial or hearing. Indictments in cases involving old offences can often be long and complex.
Some cases span a number of legislative regimes. This book is informed throughout by the principles of old and new. It even has a set of specimen indictments including offences like indecent assault and buggery. The chapter on repealed offences provides an invaluable analysis of operative periods (which can be highly problematic in practice), sentencing and a full analysis rather than the cursory overview some other textbooks offer. This alone makes it an invaluable resource for all those doing this type of work.
It is a book squarely aimed at the law and procedure needed by those who prosecute and defend this area of law from police station to verdict. There are two chapters setting out case preparation checklists for prosecuting and defending. These will assist both old hands who need a refresher and those who have embarked on the conduct of such cases recently. Part A, the first seven chapters, deals with concepts involved in sexual cases such as consent, intoxication and age. Although apparently straightforward enough to state, such ideas have proved difficult in practice. This is acknowledged and the authors even provide a specimen judicial direction on consent for cases before the 2003 Act.
The book then moves on, in parts B to D, to deal with all the statutory offences (which are very numerous) relating to sexual misconduct. The chapters are well laid out with the legislation cited first followed by concise summaries and discussions. Pitfalls are highlighted and problems aired. There are examples of the type of conduct the particular section under review applies to which will be particularly useful to prosecutors. Defences are set out, as are up-to-date sentencing guidelines.
It is the kind of book to keep at the elbow when grappling with the issues in a case. The book then moves on to deal with more general topics in Part E. In these 10 chapters there are extremely useful tools such as an analysis of third party material, a well written and trenchant abuse of process chapter and an excellent and logical chapter on evidence. Given the tortuous complexity of s 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (previous sexual history), the section of the book dealing with it is a model of clarity and usefulness. The gateways to admitting such evidence are explained and flowcharts provided.
Each section on evidence is structured in this same practical way. The final chapters deal with sentencing – another thorny and complex topic. The chapter dealing with sentencing in historic sex cases helpfully sets out the leading case and an interesting commentary on the use of ancillary orders for sex offenders in this context. The sentencing chapters are generally well researched and well set out.
I found the index useful. Whilst the chapters do not follow a set format throughout, each is set out clearly in lucid prose. The book is not bulky and is easy to carry around. The authors have approached their task skillfully and practically with one eye on the real cases practitioners will be dealing with. Long exposition of legal principle is avoided. However, the comments throughout the book do not shrink from confronting the problems the legislation and guidelines have caused those grappling with sex cases in the courts.
This book will greatly assist any solicitor or barrister who wishes to gain or supplement their knowledge of practice and procedure. It does so in a straightforward style with the benefit of all the insight and research of two professionals who conduct such cases regularly. It is a welcome guide in an increasingly complicated legal landscape.