Much has been written in the press concerning the Member of Parliament (MP) accused of sexual offences including rape, sexual assault and indecent assault. The allegations have resulted in him being suspended from Parliament pending the outcome of the police investigation. It also appears that the allegations are historic in nature, going back to 2002 and continuing until 2009.
This MP also faces allegations of an abuse of position of trust and misconduct in public office. This may infer that the complainant was working within Parliament.
At PCD Solicitors we regularly represent people accused of historic sexual offences. There are several steps that this MP (or anyone facing similar allegations) should take to reduce the likelihood of being charged or convicted. Consider the following points.
- Take expert legal advice immediately. Many people are afraid that appointing solicitors prior to being charged implies that they must be guilty. However, it is a long-standing principle of English Law that anyone accused of a crime is entitled to take legal advice, and no inference can or should be made that the person is guilty. What’s more, if you do not appoint solicitors to advise you properly, and early, then there is a greater chance that you will be charged. Having a solicitor at an early stage allows for any police interview to be carefully planned and prepared for. Several police interviews are likely to take place when a person is accused of a sexual offence, PCD Solicitors understand the importance of what a suspect says to the police during the early stages of the investigation and how crucial this can be for the future of their case.
- Does your employer have the right to suspend you or sack you? Unless you are a high profile person who attracts media attention, or the alleged assault was against a work colleague, your employer may never find out about the allegations, unless you choose to inform them. If you employer does find out then your contract of employment may state what action can be taken. It is likely that anyone in a position of trust, or where there is alleged misconduct in public office, this will permit the employer to suspend the employee pending the outcome. If convicted then the employer would likely have the right to sack the employee. It may well be unlawful for an employer to sack an employee prior to a conviction.
- Expert Counsel. Your solicitors should already have contacts with specialist barristers. At PCD Solicitors we involve Counsel from the outset and involve them in conferences with our client. This ensures continuity throughout a case and, in our view, helps to achieve a more favourable outcome.
- Specialist investigators. In the USA it is common for defence lawyers to appoint private investigators to find information about the complainant. This is less common in the UK but, non the less, should be considered. I have written previously about the reasons why people make complaints to the police, and it is widely accepted that some people do make false allegations to the police. There is also an added problem with historic cases that people become confused over time, perhaps because of mental illness, and accuse the wrong person. At PCD Solicitors we have won cases because of information we have uncovered about the complainant. We can discuss with you whether private investigators could assist your case. Remember, the police are investigating everything about you. Why should you not investigate the person making the complaint?
- Evidence. Any prosecution will be based on evidence. This can come from several sources, including the complaint and you. It may also come from third parties, including data records from social media, etc. The law allows for certain police evidence (that is harmful to your defence) to be excluded if the correct application is made to the court. It is also vital that evidence uncovered by the defence (for example, that discredits the complainant) is allowed in court. By using expert Counsel at each court hearing we are aiming to prepare a case that is favourable to the defence.
- Charging decision. The police will refer such a case to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision. This means the CPS will review the file of papers as presented by the police and decide whether you should be charged, and, if so, with which offences. At PCD Solicitors we regularly liaise with the CPS once the police refer the case. Our aim is to try and persuade the CPS not to charge, or to charge with a less serious offence. Remember, unless your solicitors make representations to the CPS then the charging decision will be made based purely on the evidence presented by the police.
- Expert witnesses. For any case involving the passage of time, it may well be beneficial to the defence to an expert to show why the evidence from the complainant may be unreliable. This could involve DNA samples, electronic data or even psychological / mental health problems of the complainant. Mental health problems of the defendant may even result in the prosecution failing or, if convicted, could be used in mitigation to reduce any sentence. At PCD Solicitors we have established contacts with experts in all aspects of criminal defence. We would always discuss with our clients whether an expert report could assist the defence.
- Reputation management / media involvement. Serious cases, particularly involving well known people, will likely attract media attention. As in this MP’s case, simply being accused of an offence can result in immeasurable damage to your reputation, career, family life, etc. “No smoke without fire” is a phrase that comes to mind. At PCD Solicitors we work with specialist firms that can try to repair damage to your reputation. This may, for example, involve the removal of negative media stories. It may also involve the advancement in the media of positive news about you. We also work with law firms handling defamation and libel cases. Legal action against anyone making unfounded and untruthful allegations against you may result in the allegations being withdrawn and, consequently, less likelihood of any prosecution.
- Professional bodies. Members of certain professions will be subject to their professional governing body. For example, a doctor will be subject to the rules of the General Medical Council (GMC). In addition to any prosecution, the professional body will also investigate and hold a hearing to determine the appropriate action against the accused person. At PCD Solicitors we are able to assist you with any professional hearing / tribunal.
- Consider your defences early. Do not wait until you are charged to start considering whether you have any defence. At PCD Solicitors we start considering defences as soon as we are instructed. Our defence work may well involve Counsel, expert witnesses and professional investigators. You may be under investigation for several months prior to charge. In our view it is better to use this time to build your defence, but at the same time trying to convince the CPS not to charge you. Information we uncover as part of our defence work may well assist with any representations we make to the CPS to avoid you being charged.