Leading solicitors defending sexual communication with a child offences (Manchester & London)
Olliers’ team of specialist lawyers can assist if you are under investigation in relation to sexual communication with a child offence.
What is sexual communication with a child?
The offence of engaging in communication with a child under the age of 16 for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification came into force in April 2017. Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 inserted a new offence into the Sexual Offences Act 2003, at section 15A, criminalising sexual communication with a child.
The provisions came into effect on 3 April 2017 and the offence is not retrospective.
The offence is committed where:
“A person aged 18 or over intentionally communicates with a child under 16, who the adult does not reasonably believe to be 16 or over, if the communication is sexual or if it is intended to encourage the child to make a communication which is sexual.”
The offence will be committed, whether or not the child communicates with the adult.
The communication must be sexual or intended to encourage a child to make a sexual communication. Sexual is defined as “if any part of it relates to sexual activity or a reasonable person would consider any part of the communication to be sexual”.
Cut and dried exchanges of sexual texts, emails or conversations in chat rooms between adult and child, if the age of the child is clear, will almost certainly be deemed criminal and, if exposed or complained of, result in charge.
The offence applies equally to online and offline communications and irrespective of the way the communication is made. The offence can be prosecuted outside the jurisdiction in the same way as other child sex offences.
The offence will apply only where the defendant can be shown to have acted for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification.
The offence is either way and attracts a maximum prison sentence of 2 years on indictment.
Is reasonable belief as to age a defence?
A defence may be available if it can be shown that it was reasonably believed that the person with whom he/she was communicating was over 16.
It will be for the Defendant to demonstrate that he had a reasonable belief that the child was aged 16 or older and that he/she had taken all reasonable precautions to determine the age of the child before engaging in sexual communication with them.
There are many factors which the prosecution will take into account in relation to this. This could include any steps the adult had taken to ascertain the age of the child, or something the child had told the adult about themselves or their development (which is indicative of age) or the child’s appearance if a photo of them appeared on a chat forum.
Involvement of vigilante groups
It is becoming increasingly common for individuals or groups of individuals who are members of the public to use online activity to uncover or “catch” alleged paedophiles involved in on-line child sexual abuse or interested in meeting children for the purpose of such abuse.
The CPS have specific guidance in relation to cases involving vigilante groups.
Undercover Police Officers
Evidence obtained by police or other activist groups can result in charges of arranging or facilitating a child sex offence. The fact that an offence may have been impossible has no bearing on the intention possessed at the time it was arranged or facilitated.
Offending behaviour could include communicating online with a person believed to a child, but who is in fact an undercover police officer or ‘vigilante’. That person then intentionally arranges to meet in order to commit a child sex offence.
Other child sex offences
There are a number of other potential offences that could be charged contrary to the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Arranging/facilitating a child sex offence
Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides the offence of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence.
A person commits this offence if:
- They intentionally arrange or facilitate something that they intend to do, intends another person to do, or believes that another person will do (in any part of the world)
- and doing it will involve the commission of an offence under any of sections 9 to 13 of the Sexual Offence Act 2003.
A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on conviction to up to 14 years’ imprisonment. The purpose of this offence is to prevent people from making it possible for a child under 16 to be sexually abused.
A person must intentionally arrange or facilitate for himself or another something that he intends or believes would happen that would result in a commission of a child sex offence in any part of the world.
There is a defence if the person arranges or facilitates something that although he believes might happen, he does not intend it to happen, and he acts for the protection of the child i.e. from sexually transmitted infection; physical safety; from becoming pregnant; or promoting the child’s well-being by giving advice. For example, where a person provides a condom to a girl under 16 in order to protect her from sexually transmitted infections/pregnancy in circumstances where she says she is already having sexual intercourse.
However, this does not apply if the person acts for the purpose of causing/encouraging the activity constituting the child sex offence or the child’s participation in it. For example, a person who gives a condom to a child under 16 to protect her from pregnancy whilst arranging for her to have sex with a friend. Similarly, the defence does not apply if the person acts for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.
The focus of the offence is on the child sexual offence which the person intended to arrange or facilitate. The fact that an offence may have been impossible has no bearing on the intention possessed at the time it was arranged. The proof of an arrangement or facilitation is not dependent on the possibility of carrying it out.
Other offences include:
- An attempt to commit an offence under section 15 of the 2003 Act of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming
- An attempt to commit an offence contrary to section 15A of the 2003 Act namely, sexual communication with a child.
- Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity contrary to sections 8 or 10 of the 2003 Act
- Indecent images of children (IIOC) offences. Click here to read more in relation to indecent images offences.
Click here to read more about sexual offences involving children
Could I go to prison for sexual communication with a child?
Sexual communication with a child is classed as an either-way offence, which means the case can be heard, either in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. The offence carries a maximum custodial sentence of two years and therefore lead to being automatically placed on the Sex Offenders Register.
This does not necessarily mean that if you are found guilty, you will definitely receive a custodial sentence. There is in fact a range of options available to the court when sentencing someone who has been found guilty. This range will depend on what category the offence falls in to i.e. the level of seriousness of the communications. The court will use a set of guidelines to determine an appropriate sentence. They will take into consideration both aggravating and mitigating factors which will differ depending on each individual case. Aggravating factors, which can adjust the sentence upwards, may be that the individual has relevant previous convictions or has abused a position of trust. On the other hand, mitigating factors could be that the individual has shown genuine remorse and has taken steps to address their behaviour, all of which can contribute to a reduction of sentence. In many cases the court will choose to impose a suspended sentence together with a community order.
Could I go on the Sex Offenders Register?
If convicted of the offence then notification requirements will follow and you will have to comply with such requirements.
Could I receive a caution for a sexual communication offence?
Being cautioned for a sexual communication offence is possible although a less usual outcome. Prosecution will usually take place unless there are substantial public interest factors against prosecution depending on the individual circumstances of a case as well as a defendant’s personal.
The decision by the police to administer a caution will ordinarily be made after advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). At Olliers we will always seek to obtain the best possible outcome and where a caution is realistic will always make representations to that effect. This may be particularly relevant to a case where a client may have sought help for a problem and where there is other, powerful mitigation. We will draft persuasive written pre-charge representations for consideration by the CPS backed up by expert evidence and other relevant information.
How can Olliers help me?
We have many years of experience of dealing with allegations of a sexual nature and understand that for many individuals this may be their first involvement with the criminal justice system. Being arrested for the first time is a harrowing experience made worse when the allegation is a sexual one. Reputations, relationships and careers are on the line.
We understand how daunting the situation may be for you. We promise not to judge and seek to work together with you to achieve the best outcome. We aim to explain the process and procedures to you in clear and unambiguous language whilst at the same understanding the anxiety you face at the situation ahead.
Olliers take a pro-active approach for individuals who are under investigation for sexual offences and communication with a child offence. Please contact us by telephone on 0161 834 1515, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form below.