Tag Archives: historic sexual offences

Rolf Harris Guilty of twelve counts of indecent assault

From the Huffington Post

From the Huffington Post

Introduction

On 30th June 2014, Rolf Harris, 84, was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault at Southwark Crown Court. 

Offences

Harris was charged with 12 counts of indecent assault (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s 14) 

The 12 charges were in relation to four different complainants occurring between 1968 and 1986. The complainants were aged between seven and 19.

We have a factsheet on historic sex offences.

Individual counts

Complainant 1 – C1

How many counts? Seven of the 12 counts related to this complainant

When were the offences alleged to have been committed? 1978 – 1985

How old was the complainant? 13 – 19 (although it was said that the complainant alleged she was abused by Harris up to age 29)

Who was she? A friend of Harris’ daughter. 

The alleged activity The Mirror reported: Harris approached the girl in her room after she came out of the shower wrapped only in a towel, then indecently assaulted her “on the pretext of a hug and tickle”.

Details During a family holiday to Hawaii in 1978, C1 was assaulted by Harris. He went on to touch C1 several more times during the holiday, including after they moved on to Australia for the trip. 

The Mirror reported: She said had just got out of the shower and was wrapped in only a towel when he came over and gave her a “cringey” hug.

She told the jury of six women and six men: “The way he hugged you and touched you all over, it was cringey.

“The way Rolf folded himself around you, he was a big man…he enfolded you in his arms and then touched you up and down over your body.

“He’d go ‘ooh’.”

He then sexually assaulted her before going back downstairs as if “nothing had happened”, the woman told the court.

C1 also said Harris twice led her away from a jetty where she had been sunbathing to abuse her down the side of the house.

However in cross examination Harris’ barrister questioned C1 about her diary,  particularly asking why there was no mention in her diary of the alleged abuse. The diary entry for that day commented “Today was great, we went on the beach and went swimming.”

Further assaults were said to have taken place in her own home during her teens and on one occasion when other people – including Harris’ wife – were present in the room. C1 developed a drinking problem at age 14 and would drink “shed loads of gin” when Harris visited her family home. C1 also alleged that Harris abused her when she was in bed next to Harris’ daughter Bindi. 

When C1 was 14, Harris followed her to her room, and said she “turned him on” before assaulting her.

After C1 turned 19 there were occasions when she consented to sexual encounters with Harris, which continued until she was 29.

On one occasion she performed a sex act on Harris on the M4 motorway in Harris’ red Mercedes when she was 22 in 1987.

C1 went to see Harris in Cinderella in Wimbledon in 1994.

She performed a sex act on him in his dressing room before the panto started.

She brought the abuse to an end when she was 29.

C1’s father wrote a letter to Harris after C1 told him of the abuse. Harris replied in 1997 admitting a sexual relationship, denying that it began when she was aged 13 and  he had been left feeling “sickened” to learn of the misery he had caused her.

Harris said he believed that “everything that had taken place had progressed from a feeling of love and friendship”, and there was “no rape, no physical forcing”.

Complainant 2 – C2

How many counts? 1

When were they committed? 1968

How old was the complainant? 7 or 8

Details When aged 8, C2 saw Harris at a community centre. in Portsmouth She went to get his autograph. He touched her indecently in an ‘intrusive’ way. 

The Mirror reported: C2 told jurors: “He was very very close, he was leaning into me.

“I thought he was warm, being accommodating to a small child.

“He was looking at me smiling and I smiled and was looking excited, then from out of nowhere I felt his hand go down my back and up between my legs.

“It was very quick, so quick that I thought to myself ‘what’s just happened’.”

The girl “could not process” what had happened and thought it may have been an accident but Harris then repeated the same move.

She said: “More or less instantly the hand was back. I don’t recall it on my back that time, but it was straight up between my legs quite aggressively and forcefully and it didn’t matter if it was going to hurt me or not.”

Complainant 3 – C3

How many counts? 1

When were they committed? 1975

How old was the complainant? 14

Details At an ‘It’s a Knockout’ event in Cambridge, C3 saw Harris playing with a dog. He said “oh look who’s here’ before fondling her.

The Mirror reported: C3 told the jury of six men and six women that Harris put his arm around her, and moved his hand up and down her back, before squeezing her bottom.

With her voice wavering, she said: “I can’t remember the exact words but he made some motion to me ‘ come up’, and I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as if it was happening now. He came up and put his arm around my left shoulder.

“It was quite a firm hold. I just stood there. I couldn’t believe what was going on, this famous person putting his arm around me.

“To start it was a very nervous but a good feeling, however his hand then moved and his hand went up and down my back and his hand went over my bottom and it was very firm.”

Complainant 4 – C4

Anonymity – C4 had reportedly ‘waived’ her right to anonymity. Whilst there is provision for that under the relevant legislation, we will air on the side of caution and refer to her as C4.

How many counts? 3

When were they committed? ‘late 1980s’

How old was the complainant? 15

Details C4 met Harris whilst she was part of a theatre group in Australia. The group travelled to the UK in 1986 where they met Rolf and had dinner at a London pub where he told funny stories. He asked the girls to sit on his lap whilst he touched them inappropriately. C4 was in shock and went to the bathroom. When she left the bathroom Harris was waiting for her and groped her again. Harris stopped when someone walked by. 

The Mirror reported: C4 then aged 15, said she was invited to sit on the entertainer’s lap, and that his hand began to creep up her thigh.

She said: “I could feel that there was some movement happening beneath me. He was moving back and forth rubbing against me.”

The defence commented that C4’s decision to give press interviews about the alleged abuse demonstrated a desire to make money out of Harris. 

Other alleged victims

The court also heard from five other women who claimed to have been victims of Harris’ behaviour. As some of the behaviour was committed outside of the UK and before legislation enabled such offences to be tried in the UK, the evidence was adduced to attempt to demonstrate how Harris had a defined pattern of behaviour in relation to young women and girls. The jury were not asked to consider whether he was guilty of those allegations. The most notable allegation to feature in the papers was probably that Harris told an 11-year-old girl, “I want to be the first one to give you a tongue kiss,” as he lunged at her during a trip to Australia in 1969.

Jury questions

The media are always fascinated by these. Often they can give an inaccurate indication as to the stage or thought process of the jury and barristers tend to tell their clients not to take too much heart (or dismay) from a particular question asked by their jury.

The jury asked the Judge a question on Friday 20 June. The Guardian reported that they were sent home for the weekend early after asking the Judge what happens if they are unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

The Judge replied: “At the moment the only verdict on each count I can accept from you is one upon which you are all agreed.

Sentencing

Maximum sentences

Sexual Offences Act 1956 s 14 – the law was amended over the years and the maximum sentence changes depending on when the offence was committed. The relevant periods are:

1 January 1957 – 31 December 1960: 2 years

1 January 1961 – 15 September 1985: 2 years or 5 years if victim under 13 and age stated on indictment

16 September 1985 onwards: 10 years

What does this mean for Rolf Harris?

C1 – max sentence on each count 2 years

C2 – max sentence 5 years provided the indictment specifies C2 was aged under 13

C3 – max sentence 2 years

C4 – max sentence on each count 10 years

How will the Judge approach the case?

The starting point for sentencing historic sexual offences is the new sexual offences guideline. We have a fact sheet on the sentencing of historic sexual offences which explains the way the Judge will approach the sentencing exercise. 

Additionally, as there are multiple counts to sentence for, our guide on totality and concurrent and consecutive sentences may be of interest.

He will be sentenced on Friday 4 July at 10am. He was bailed until then.

Dave Lee Travis acquitted of historic sexual offences

Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images [From The Guardian]

Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images [From The Guardian]

On 13 February 2014, Dave Lee Travis – real name David Patrick Griffin – was acquitted of 12 counts of indecent assault. The jury were unable to reach a verdict on the final indecent assault count and the sexual assault count. The CPS have seven days to decide whether they wish to pursue a retrial on those two counts.

He stood trial accused of 13 counts of indecent assault and one count of sexual assault against 11 women.

He pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The alleged offences

Indecent assault was an offence under Sexual Offences Act 1956. That was repealed in 2004.

Sexual assault is an offence under Sexual Offences Act 2003. That came into force in 2004.

The reason for the different counts is that the single allegation of sexual assault relates to alleged behaviour after 2004. All other counts relate to alleged behaviour before 2004.

Both indecent assault and sexual assault encompass a very wide range of behaviour. Indecent assault can include penetration. After 2004, penetrative behaviour would be charged as assault by penetration (a more serious offence than sexual assault).

Background

He was a radio DJ and TV presenter in the 1970s and 1980s, best known for presenting the breakfast show on Radio 1 and Top of the Pops.

Allegations

The complainants alleged that DLT engaged in the following behaviour:

  • Groping a radio announcer’s breasts whilst she was on air.
  • Touching a journalist’s bottom whilst she was at his house to conduct an interview.
  • Touching a girl’s bottom whilst dancing at two British Airways parties.
  • One of the complainants was aged 15 at the time of the alleged

This may appear to be a bit vague, but it is hard to get exact details of each allegation.

DLT’s evidence

The Mirror reported that he admitted being tactile but denied being predatory:

  • “Perhaps hugging is something which can be misconstrued by some people or if people are looking for an excuse they can say ‘he touched us’. I did hug a lot girls.”
  • “I do not have a predatory nature with women, I have a cuddly nature.”
  • “Maybe that’s what this is all about, but I am not predatory.”
  • “If I really like somebody I will put my arm around them and I might give them a peck on the cheek, I even do that with men, to make them feel comfortable and welcome to the place.”
  • “But nowadays you are not allowed to do that, put your arms around people and hug them.”

Additionally, in his police interviews, DLT commented that perhaps the complainants were fabricating the allegations in order to ‘jump on the bandwagon’. The Mirror reported that in interview, he said:

  • “Why wait 20 years until it comes out in one-sided press coverage?”
  • “This is just someone else who can smell money and is jumping into the game to see what they can get out of it.”

Readers will no doubt remember the LCJ’s comments in the Stuart Hall Att-Gen’s Ref case where Hall was severely criticised for making public statements labelling the complainants as liars. Had Dave Lee Travis been convicted, this may have been taken into account by the sentencing judge. In my view that would have been wrong for two reasons. The first is that DLT seems to have only made these comments in his police interview, not to the press (though they have been reported) and secondly that there is a principle that a defendant should not be punished for the way he or she conducts their defence. The ‘punishment’ for not telling the truth is the loss of credit for a guilty plea. The fact that a defendant has lied giving evidence or lied in police interview should act as a factor by which to increase the sentence.

The jury note

On the morning of their third day of retirement, the jury sent a note to the Judge that caused a fair amount of interest on the internet :

This appeared to be a bad sign for Mr Travis. However, the verdicts were not delivered until the next afternoon. As jury deliberations are secret, we will never know what the significance of this question was.

Majority direction

On 13 February 2014 at about 11.50am (after about 19 hours of deliberation) the jury were given what is known as the ‘majority direction’.

A jury will be told when they first retire that they must reach a unanimous verdict. Since 1974 juries have been allowed, in certain circumstances, to reach a majority verdict. This is a verdict of 11-1 or 10-2.

When the Judge gives a majority direction, s/he will tell the jury that they should still try and reach a unanimous verdict. The jury will then go and think about it and can return a majority verdict if the numbers are as above.

Maximum sentences for the offences

It is important to remember that historic allegations are sentenced on the basis of the law at the time, that is to say, the penalties are as they were at the time of the offences.

The reason for this is that there is a principle of law against retrospective sentencing which prohibits imposing higher sentences than were available at the time the offences were committed. That means that the Judge is restricted by the maximum sentence at the time, he or she does not need to estimate what the defendant would have been sentenced to if the defendant was sentenced at the time. (See below for more details)

Indecent assault

For indecent assault, the maximum sentence depends on the gender and age of the victim:

Female victims, offence committed on/after 16 Sept 1985 10 years

Female victim, offence committed prior to 16 Sept 1985 five years, if the girl was under 13, otherwise two years’

Male victims 10 years

Sexual assault

For sexual assault, the maximum sentence is 10 years.

The law in this area is complicated and advice should always be sought. For our Australian readers, NSW firm Prime Lawyers offer information and guidance on the issues surrounding sexual offences.

The approach to sentencing historic sexual offences

Here are some basic principles from the guideline case on sentencing historic sexual offences, R v H 2012 2 Cr App R (S) 21:

1) The offence of which the defendant is convicted and the sentencing parameters (in particular, the maximum available sentence) applicable to that offence are governed not by the law at the date of sentence, but by the law in force at the time when the criminal conduct occurred.

 2) Article 7(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits the imposition of a heavier penalty than one “applicable” at the time when the offence was committed.

 3) Although sentence must be limited to the maximum sentence at the date when the offence was committed, it is wholly unrealistic to attempt an assessment of sentence by seeking to identify in (2013) what the sentence for the individual offence was likely to have been if the offence had come to light at or shortly after the date when it was committed.

 4) Similarly, if maximum sentences have been reduced, as in some instances, for example theft, they have, the more severe attitude to the offence in earlier years, even if it could be established, should not apply.

 5) As always, the particular circumstances in which the offence was committed and its seriousness must be the main focus. Due allowance for the passage of time may be appropriate. The date may have a considerable bearing on the offender’s culpability.

Here is more information about prosecuting and sentencing allegations of historic sexual abuse.

Sentencing for sexual assault

DLT would have been sentenced according to the existing sentencing guideline for sexual offences. This does not apply to indecent assault. It will remain applicable until 1 April 2014 when the new guideline will come into force.

The guideline that applies to sexual assault is here (see numbered page 31 onwards)

Consequences of a conviction for sexual offences

Generally, a conviction for a sexual offence results in the offender being placed on the sex offenders register. This is known as ‘notification’ as the offender has to notify the police of certain details such as where he or she lives, if they are staying away from their main address, their bank details etc. The length of the notification depends on the sentence they receive. There is fact sheet here.

Offenders convicted of sexual offences usually are able to be made subject to SOPOs – Sexual Offences Prevention Orders. There is a factsheet on SOPOs here.

Indecent assault

In relation to indecent assault, a SOPO may only be made if the victim is aged under 18 or the offender is sentenced to 30 months or more.

A conviction or caution for indecent assault will result in the offender’s inclusion on the adult and child barred list subject to the consideration of representations. This means that they will be prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults, but they do have the opportunity to make representations as to why such a prohibition should not apply to them.

Sexual assault

A SOPO may be made where the victim was under 18 or the offender was sentenced to imprisonment or a community order lasting at least 12 months.

As with indecent assault, a conviction or caution for sexual assault will result in the offender’s inclusion on the adult and child barred list subject to the consideration of representations.

What now for DLT?

The Prosecution have a week to consider whether they wish to have a re-trial on the two counts on which the jury could not agree. We will look at this in a bit more detail next week.

This news piece was made possible by Prime Lawyers.

Stuart Hall – Attorney General’s Reference against ‘lenient’ 15 month sentence

Stuart Hall was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment on 17th June 2013 for a series of sexual offences committed between 1967 and 1985 (or 1986, the Prosecution were unable to say which).

We covered the background to this offending here and the issues thrown up by historic sexual offences here.

Attorney-General’s References

The Attorney-General, following (reportedly) around 150 complaints (including from the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MP) has referred the case to the Court of Appeal as he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient.

An Att-Gen’s reference is essentially a prosecution appeal against sentence. An overview can be found here. The Court of Appeal, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, Court 5, will be led by the outgoing (as in he is retiring, not that he is friendly and confident) Lord Chief Justice, Lady Just Rafferty (a former Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association) and Mrs Justice Macur (who has been promoted to the Court of Appeal, as a Lady Justice, but is yet to take up that appointment).

They will consider whether the 15 month sentence handed down by HHJ Russell QC at Preston was outside the range of sentences the judge could have considered reasonably appropriate when considering all of the relevant factors. Attorney-General’s references are designed to correct gross errors as opposed to replacing a sentence which is a little lenient, or different in nature to the one the Court of Appeal have in mind.

Stuart Hall

The starting point is the sentencing remarks, which are here. They are worth reading in full (especially if you are of the view that the sentence was too short).

There were 14 separate offences (relating to 13 separate victims). The ages of the victims were between 9 and 17 years old. The offences vary in seriousness, with the Judge noting that some of them, had they stood in isolation, “is by no means the worst example of sexual abuse of children to come before the Court“

The maximum sentence for indecent assault was originally 2 years, later to 5 (for children under the age of 13) and then to 10 years from 16th September 1985 (s3 Sexual Offences Act 1985).

The most serious offences were Counts 6, 15 and 16. Briefly, Count 6 involved a 13 year old girl who had been drinking. Mr Hall accepted touching her breasts and inserting a finger in her vagina. Counts 15 and 16 involved far less serious offending, but also attracted the highest sentence as the girls were so young (10 and 9 respectively).

It should be noted that the offence in Count 6 would today be charged as Assault by Penetration with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Given the facts of the offence, the starting point today would be in the region of 10 years (page 29).

An explanation of the sentence – and why the court are constrained by the maximum sentences of the 1960s can be seen here and here.

The outcome

The Court of Appeal increased the sentence, saying that the breach of trust seriously aggravated the offences (as did his pronouncement of denials of any wrongdoing on the steps of the Court, which the Court seemed to think was an attempt to influence a potential jury)

As a result, the sentence as a whole was not just merciful or lenient, but was unduly so. The Court doubled the sentence to 30 months. This is a significant increase (equating to a starting point of a sentence of 3½ years after trial, allowing for an element of double jeopardy.

Comment

To my mind, the sentence wasn’t unduly lenient when balancing all of the factors, such as his pleas, his age, the maximum sentences at the time and the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in the guideline case of R v H.

However, that said, there has been an awful lot of media pressure and public anger about the sentence and so I wasn’t surprised that the sentence is increased slightly. It was certainly not a severe sentence and so it is probably within the scope of the court to increase the sentence if they feel the judge did not properly assess the offences correctly. An increase to 30 months is a bigger increase than was expected.

Here is a link to a press release by the firm representing some of Stuart Hall’s victims detailing the reaction of one of the victims to the increase in sentence.

Historic sexual abuse allegations

 

What are we talking about?

These are cases in which there are allegations of sexual abuse which occurred decades ago. Frequently these can include repeated abuse over a significant period of time, with numerous victims.

Often, the victims are young, vulnerable individuals.

There is usually a degree of breach of trust in such cases, and

It is common for the abuse to be centred around an institution such as a school or church, or within a family.

Should they be prosecuted? It is a very long time ago.

It can be difficult to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial if the allegations concern conduct 30 or 40 years ago. The situation, as one would imagine, is complicated.

Nick Ferrari, presenter on LBC radio, said this week, ‘I can’t remember what I was doing last week. How is a defendant supposed to remember an incident 30 or 40 years ago?’. Whilst many sympathise with this view, the question must be asked whether the passage of time negates the need to detect, investigate and prosecute serious crime.

In April 2013, the Chief of the Met Police stated that they would continue to look for the other men involved in Stephen Lawrence’s murder, 20 years after the event. No one would suggest that that course of action is wrong, so why should police and the CPS not investigate and prosecute allegations of serious sexual abuse?

The courts will take every step to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial. The judge will ensure the jury are properly directed on the law and the evidence and will remind them of the difficulties of historic cases – particularly when it comes to ‘his word against hers’ (as so often is the case).

What about the delay in reporting? Does this suggest they are lying?

CPS Guidance on the topic states:

“It is now widely accepted that delay in reporting is not indicative of a false allegation and prosecutors should be proactive in encouraging the police to investigate thoroughly to uncover any available supporting evidence. Not surprisingly victims may have problems recalling the precise details of each and every incident, especially in relation to dates.”

There can be many reasons why a complainant may not report such abuse until years – even decades – after the event. These can include fear of not being believed (certainly in the case of a prominent public figure) and an unwillingness to relive the incident.  In the Stuart Hall case this week, we have seen reported that numerous complainants – unconnected to one another – came forward after hearing of the initial allegations against him.

A delay in reporting abuse of course does not mean a complainant is lying, but there are added complications when the incident is alleged to have happened so long ago.

What about defendant anonymity? If they are acquitted, their reputations are ruined.

This a tricky question.

On the one hand, there are strong arguments to say that because of the reputational damage caused by such serious allegations – irrespective of whether they are proven or not – there should be anonymity for those accused of such crimes.

Some say, this should merely extend to when a defendant is charged, as at that point, the CPS have taken the decision that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute etc.

Others say this should extend to conviction, as the reputational damage is the same even if a defendant is not named until they are charged.

On the other hand, one cannot deny the importance of encouraging victims of historical abuse to come forward. The Stuart Hall case provides a persuasive example. Had his name not been published, then it may be that the allegations would have resulted in only 3 charges rather than 14 being brought. Indeed, one complainant said she only came forward after hearing about Stuart Hall’s arrest on the radio.

So, what is the solution?

Well, better reporting of acquittals and defence cases in trials such as this would go some way to reducing the reputational damage caused by unproven allegations. With a bit more information, and a little bit of education, the wider public may understand that arrested and charged means only that an allegation has been made and the CPS consider that a) there is a realistic prospect of conviction and b) it is in the public interest to prosecute.

However, there remains the ‘no smoke without fire’ mentality which is damaging.

Mark George QC wrote on defendant anonymity here, earlier this year.

Here is an article on ‘The right to know’ in today’s Telegraph.

Current practice in naming suspects

The following is a quote from a BBC article (3 May 2013).

“When someone is arrested for an offence – and the incident appears to be newsworthy – journalists will try to establish what has happened. That ultimately means trying to establish who has been arrested, because journalists want their reporting to be accurate.

But the police’s position in relation to names is shifting in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry report.

Lord Justice Leveson said that arrested suspects should not be named “save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances”.

Current practice is that a police force issues a statement along the lines of a “A 34-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of such-and-such a crime”.

What happens next varies from force to force. Some will informally confirm the name of the person arrested if journalists have worked it out for themselves. Some won’t.

Police chiefs want to introduce an official policy under which forces would “neither confirm nor deny” (NCND) the name of anyone arrested.”

Sentencing

Here are some basic principles from the guideline case on sentencing historic sexual offences, R v H 2012 2 Cr App R (S) 21:

1) The offence of which the defendant is convicted and the sentencing parameters (in particular, the maximum available sentence) applicable to that offence are governed not by the law at the date of sentence, but by the law in force at the time when the criminal conduct occurred.

 2) Article 7(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits the imposition of a heavier penalty than one “applicable” at the time when the offence was committed.

 3) Although sentence must be limited to the maximum sentence at the date when the offence was committed, it is wholly unrealistic to attempt an assessment of sentence by seeking to identify in (2013) what the sentence for the individual offence was likely to have been if the offence had come to light at or shortly after the date when it was committed.

 4) Similarly, if maximum sentences have been reduced, as in some instances, for example theft, they have, the more severe attitude to the offence in earlier years, even if it could be established, should not apply.

 5) As always, the particular circumstances in which the offence was committed and its seriousness must be the main focus. Due allowance for the passage of time may be appropriate. The date may have a considerable bearing on the offender’s culpability.

Max Clifford charged with historic sexual offences

Max Clifford

 

 On Friday 26 April 2013, Max Clifford the well known PR consultant, was charged with a series of sexual offences.

 What do we know?

The BBC News report is here.

Clifford, aged 70, was arrested in Operation Yewtree, which was set up after allegations were made against Jimmy Savile. Clifford’s arrest has nothing to do with Jimmy Savile, however the allegations became known to the police as a result of the publicity surrounding Savile.

 It is alleged that Clifford committed 11 offences of indecent assault against seven women between 1966 and 1985. The youngest alleged victim was aged 14. Clifford denies all charges.

 Indecent assault is an offence under Sexual Offences Act 1956:

 (1) It is an offence, subject to the exception mentioned in subsection (3) of this section, for a person to make an indecent assault on a woman.

(2) A girl under the age of sixteen cannot in law give any consent which would prevent an act being an assault for the purposes of this section.

 The offence was repealed in 2004 when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force.

 Clifford is able to be charged with indecent assault as the offence still applies to offences committed before the appeal. (There is nothing in the Act itself which deals with this situation, and so liability for acts prior to the repeal derrives from the Interpretation Act 1978 s 16(1)(c) and (e).)

 There have been no more details released about the allegations.

 Mr Clifford was later released on bail and is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 28 May.

Are things different because the offences happened so long ago?

Well, the simple answer is yes. But the situation is a fusion of ‘then and now’.

We wont deal with the specifics of Clifford’s case as a) it is inappropriate and b) we don’t really know very much.

Let’s deal with a trial first.

Where there are allegations of historic sexual abuse, the applicable law is that which was current at the time. In terms of the substantive law, the court ‘looks back’ to the date of the offence(s).

Why is this? Well, it would not be fair for a person to be guilty of an offence which was not an offence at the time they committed the relevant act. If, on Tuesday, Parliament enacted a law that criminalised the wearing of red t-shirts, would it be right that someone who wore a red t-shirt the previous day is guilty of an offence? Clearly not.

In such cases, there are potential issues surrounding abuse of process – it is often argued that the defendant cannot receive a fair trial as the conduct took place such a long time ago.

So if the hypothetical offence took place in 1964, the trial proceeds as if it was  1964?

Not quite. The procedure for the trial will be the same as it is today.

Click here for an explanation of the procedure in the Crown Court.

And what about the sentence?

Here are some basic principles from the guideline case on sentencing historic sexual offences, R v H 2012 2 Cr App R (S) 21:

1) The offence of which the defendant is convicted and the sentencing parameters (in particular, the maximum available sentence) applicable to that offence are governed not by the law at the date of sentence, but by the law in force at the time when the criminal conduct occurred.

 2) Article 7(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits the imposition of a heavier penalty than one “applicable” at the time when the offence was committed.

 3) Although sentence must be limited to the maximum sentence at the date when the offence was committed, it is wholly unrealistic to attempt an assessment of sentence by seeking to identify in (2013) what the sentence for the individual offence was likely to have been if the offence had come to light at or shortly after the date when it was committed.

 4) Similarly, if maximum sentences have been reduced, as in some instances, for example theft, they have, the more severe attitude to the offence in earlier years, even if it could be established, should not apply.

 5) As always, the particular circumstances in which the offence was committed and its seriousness must be the main focus. Due allowance for the passage of time may be appropriate. The date may have a considerable bearing on the offender’s culpability.

Image from The Guardian