Serial sex offenders should be tried twice, say legal advisers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Serial sex offenders should be tried a second time for any linked offences to stop them escaping full punishment for their crimes, the Government's law advisory body says today.

Serial sex offenders should be tried a second time for any linked offences to stop them escaping full punishment for their crimes, the Government's law advisory body says today.

The proposal follows a change in the law in 1997 which curbed the effectiveness of specimen charges and stopped judges taking account of related criminal activity not proved in court.

The Law Commission of England and Wales argues that sentences for multiple offenders, such as child abusers and serial fraudsters, do not always reflect the extent of their crime.

Under the proposed change, to be considered by ministers, a defendant convicted of a sample count in the first trial could be sent before a judge to be tried on all other related offences.

The commissioners recommend a two-stage trial "where there are allegations of repetitious offending which are not apt to be described as a continuous offence but which, prior to Kidd [the child abuse case which led to the change in the law], the abuse could have been dealt with by means of specimen counts".

The first stage of the trial would take place before judge and jury in the normal way, on an indictment containing specimen counts. In the event of conviction on one or more counts, the second stage of the trial may follow, in which the defendant would be tried by judge alone by the same judge who sat in the first trial.

Opponents of this part of the Law Commission's proposal argue that it represents a further erosion of trial by jury. But the commissioners say the benefits outweigh any potential curb to jury trial.

They argue the reform would still preserve jury trial in respect of core examples of the defendant's criminality but at the same time ensure "that defendants would not be able to take advantage of the practical limits of trial by jury so as to go unpunished for a significant part of their offending".

They argue it would also encourage guilty defendants, either on initial arraignment or after conviction of a number of specimen counts, to admit any linked offences of which they are also guilty.

The Law Commission recommends that where a defendant has been convicted in the Crown Court of a count citing conduct which under existing law may be regarded as a "continuous offence", a judge can request a "special verdict" from the jury so that the court knows how much of that offending the jury is sure that the defendant committed.