People who have viewed indecent images of children but do not have a relevant criminal record should undergo an educational course before a charging decision is made, an influential thinktank has suggested to alleviate pressures on the justice system caused by a surge in sexual offence allegations. Should the individual fail to complete the scheme, they could be prosecuted.
The pilot is one of 57 recommendations outlined in Justice's report on prosecuting sexual offences, which will be unveiled at an event in London this evening. Justice says there has been a surge in sexual offence allegations in recent years, which has highlighted the complexities of prosecuting sexual offences.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service's 2017/18 report, the overall number of cases continues to fall, but those that the CPS prosecutes have become increasingly complex. This was reflected in the huge growth of digital evidence and, in the case of sexual offences, often a heavy reliance on vulnerable victims and witnesses, the CPS said.
Justice's working party, chaired by HH Peter Rook QC, has considered how sexual offences might be prosecuted more effectively. It has also tried to identify an approach that understands what causes sexual offending and address these through efforts that prevent crime, offer alternatives to prosecution and reduce reoffending.
Internet companies should be required to report to Companies House what they are doing to stop sexual offences happening on their platforms, the working party recommends. Police video-recorded interviews should be tailored to the needs of vulnerable witnesses in terms of location, questioning and structure. A dedicated hearing should assess the needs of complainants giving evidence and pre-recorded evidence should be available in all sexual offence cases.
HH Rook QC said: 'We have sought to identify areas where greater efficiency can be achieved without in any way eroding a fair trial. We found that there is substantial scope for alleviating the pressures upon the criminal justice system by improving our response to sexual offending and treatment of those it has harmed.'
Andrea Coomber, director of Justice, said: 'At a time where sexual offence allegations are putting the criminal justice system under increased strain and causing distress to victims, it is particularly important to not only ensure that procedures are efficient but also to identify ways to stop sexual offending occurring in the first place. This report highlights the need for a holistic approach to sexual offences that encompasses education, prevention and effective rehabilitation.'