Indecent Images Sentencing Guidelines

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PCD Solicitors often advise clients who are accused of being in possession of and/or making indecent images of children.

The most frequently asked question from our clients is: "Will I go to prison?"

This is, of course, a frightening prospect – and another grave concern is the stigma attached to a person who is convicted or found guilty of child sex offences.

Such a serious and stigmatised offence and sentence can not only affect your freedom, but also your work prospects and current and future relationships for the rest of your life.

That is why it is crucial to know the law concerning indecent images, and what could happen to a defendant accused of possessing and/or making them.

What are the indecent images sentencing guidelines? This blog is written to provide answers to common questions regarding sentencing for indecent images, and how a sentence is determined by the courts. 

What is an indecent image?

An indecent image refers to a sexual image of a child (under 18 years old), which includes nude or partially clothed children posing sexually in self-generated images.

The term ‘image’ does not just refer to photographs, but also to videos, computer data that can be converted into a video or image file, and pseudo-photographs (e.g. an edited or computer-generated image).

Under Section 1(1)(a) of the Protection of Children Act 1978, it is an offence to make an indecent image of a child. ‘Making’ means to open, access, download, or store an image, thereby bringing it into your possession.

Section 160(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence to have an indecent image in your possession. The definition of ‘possession’ has been developed through case law to include knowingly storing retrievable images.

While these laws primarily concern children, they can also be extended to apply to animals.

Charges authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) relating to indecent images are most commonly possession or making of indecent images, the latter of which is more severe.

The elements of each offence differ, so it is important to discuss this with a specialist solicitor who can determine which elements apply in your case, and whether there is any defence available.  

How are indecent images categorised? 

There are three categories of indecent images, which are classified according to severity: 

  • Category A images are the most obscene and involve penetrative sexual activity.
  • Category B images involve non-penetrative but explicit sexual activity.
  • Category C includes images of a sexual nature that do not fall into Category A or B.

For example, a child posing naked or partially naked in what would appear to a reasonable person to be a sexual manner would be considered a Category C indecent image.

The police have access to the Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), which is designed to assist in the categorisation of indecent images of children, and also to identify potential victims of child abuse. 

CAID is a secure database which holds records of child abuse images known to UK law enforcement. It is compiled of indecent images of children from around the world, and when a device is seized from a suspect, its content is compared against known data held within this database. 

When an image has been graded by three officers and the same grade has been given each time, this will then be stored by CAID as an approved trusted grade.

Therefore, there is no requirement for the police or the CPS to re-grade the same image in every new case – which helps to save police time and provides a consistent approach to grading known images. 

As defence solicitors who specialise in sexual offences, we work closely with some of the leading forensic experts in the UK.

At PCD Solicitors, we are aware that CAID is not necessarily accurate, and would always advise a client who disputes the age of a person in an image to have their own independent expert carry out the indecent image grading.

The difference between a Category A and Category B image can greatly reduce a sentence – and could even be the deciding factor as to whether a person is imprisoned or not. 

What are the sentencing guidelines for an indecent images offence

The possession and or making of indecent images is what is referred to as an ‘either way’ offence. This means that a case could be heard by the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.

Which court hears a case is dependent on the seriousness of the case and whether it is within the court’s jurisdiction. Where a magistrates’ court accepts an ‘either way’ offence, the defendant is then given the option as to whether they would like their case to remain in the Magistrates’ Court or elect the Crown Court.

There are advantages to each court, and your solicitor should discuss these in detail with you prior to your court appearance. 

The sentencing guidelines for indecent images differ for each offence.

An offence under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 carries a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment, with sentencing ranging from a community order to 9 years’ imprisonment. 

For offences under Section 160(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the maximum sentence is 5 years’ imprisonment, with a sentencing range of a community order to 3 years’ imprisonment.

There are many factors that determine where a case lies within the range of sentencing. These include which category the images are graded in, the nature and quantity of the images, and any aggravating or mitigating factors that may be relevant to the case and the defendant’s behaviour. 

The risk of custody in an indecent images case is therefore very real, and it is important that your case is considered by a specialist lawyer so you can receive appropriate guidance on the most likely sentence, with specific reference to the facts of your case.

When convicted of such offences, it is a mandatory requirement for a defendant to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register, which cannot be avoided.

It is also highly likely that a defendant would be subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) – which may prohibit their contact with children in certain situations.

Get legal advice from indecent images solicitors

It is important to remember that not every case is the same, as every defendant has individual personal circumstances that can affect the way their situation develops.

At PCD Solicitors, we understand the importance of approaching each case afresh, knowing there is no single approach that will fit all clients.

We therefore offer a tailored service to each client, working with you to ensure we understand you and your personal circumstances, the reasons why you find yourself before the court, and your concerns about indecent images sentencing and its consequences. 

PCD Solicitors has avoided immediate custody for all clients accused of possession and/or making of indecent images. We work hard to ensure that every client is prepared for sentencing and that sufficient time is spent gathering mitigating evidence for the client to assist them in obtaining the most lenient sentence possible. 

PCD Solicitors welcomes enquiries regarding court orders as a result of an indecent images sentence. We also regularly advise and act on behalf of clients wishing to have their court orders amended. 

If you or a family member would like to discuss your case, potential sentence, or court orders imposed, please contact one of our lawyers today for a free initial consultation. 

Call PCD Solicitors on 0151 705 8488 or email us at to discuss your case with complete confidentiality.