The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme recently reported on a new warning scheme being used by police forces in England and Wales which solicitors should be aware of.

C5 notices are issued to inform individuals that the police have concerns about their sexual behaviour, particularly in relation to young adults and children. The notices describe what constitutes an offence related to child sexual exploitation and encourages the individuals targeted to change their behaviour. The police say the purpose is educational and preventative.

Critically they are being used when there is insufficient evidence for a matter to proceed to charge or in cases where there is no evidence of any offending behaviour at all, but an allegation amounting to a concern about behaviour has been made.

We at Kingsley Napley fear these notices are criminalisation without due process, given the individuals caught by them will find details of the notice recorded on the Police National Computer and very likely to appear in enhanced DBS checks.

There is no requirement for an objective review of the quality of the evidence the police act on to issue these notices. It is an entirely one-sided process, and yet the implications of receiving a notice are profound and serious.

We object to the lack of opportunity for anyone to appeal the notice or challenge receiving one. This is particularly worrying considering that a 16-year-old could receive a C5 notice for immature or innocent behaviour. According to the BBC, 34 out of the 54 notices handed out by Hampshire Police were given to individuals aged 25 and below.

Lastly, if the police feel that a person poses a real risk, there are pre-offence sexual risk orders that contain procedural safeguards, such as court approval, where a judge must properly consider the quality of the information received.

Ultimately, the use of these notices is not satisfactory for anyone involved – victim or suspected perpetrator. We understand the police are operating in an environment of decreased budgets and enhanced public concern about child sexual abuse, but C5 notices are not the answer. They are criminalisation by default, without the procedural safeguards required for a caution or a formal conviction.

Áine Kervick
Criminal defence lawyer at Kingsley Napley