The pandemic has not only changed the way we live our daily lives but has had a huge impact on the criminal justice system. We have seen as a nation a decrease in certain areas of crime but, as a specialist sexual offence firm PCD Solicitors have seen an increase in particular online offences, such as the making, possession and distribution of indecent images of children.
Without the pandemic suspects under investigation in relation to sexual offences concerning the seizure and examination of electronic devices had to endure a lengthy wait whilst their devices were examined. We are now seeing this process taking far longer to conclude due to the rise in online offending and the Covid-19 pandemic. This delay effectively places a suspects life on hold whilst the investigation takes place.
The Lucy Faithful Foundation has published data to show that since February 2020 the number of people seeking help to stop viewing images has doubled, the police are arresting or seeking to hold voluntary interviews with over 700 suspects a month in relation to indecent image offences and this can only begin to explain the reason as to why there is such a forensic back log.
As of April 2020 the Freedom of Information Act showed that a total of 12,122 devices were awaiting examination across 32 police forces, this has only increased. Those forces able to provide a time estimate of how long it would take to clear such a backlog ranges from three months to over one year. Officers are ‘overwhelmed’ by the amount of digital forensics they have to deal with and with not enough police detectives and little funding in place the police are also left waiting for the outcome of digital examinations to enable them to progress an investigation.
In April 2020 12,122 devices were awaiting examination across 32 police forces
What does this mean for a suspect?
A lengthy wait for any suspect in any criminal investigation is an extremely stressful time, suspect are desperate to prove their innocence or to just get some closure even if this involves charges being brought against them.
Such investigations impact not only the suspect but their family too. Many of our clients have partners and children and their worlds are turned upside down by the police attending their property and seizing their personal possessions due to the suspicion that sexual offences have been committed.
Social Services can become involved and a suspects children can be interviewed by them. This is a part of the process to ensure children are not at any risk of sexual harm and to ensure that they remain safe throughout the investigative process.
What can we do for a suspect under investigation?
At PCD Solicitors we are extremely proactive at the police investigation stage and have a proven track record of successful pre-charge engagement. Why wait when preparing your defence can begin?
Although, the police will not make a decision not to charge until the forensic examinations have concluded, what you do and say during the investigative stage can provide them with other avenues to explore such as; the potential for your internet to have been used by another, the potential that someone has used your personal details to set up accounts in order to obtain or distribute images, were you on holiday when images were obtained using your IP address? We can discuss possible defences with you and devise a strategy for you to ensure the investigation is conducted to assist.
It may be that you accept incriminating evidence will be found on your devices however, it is very important to be able to view police disclosure before making any admissions for a variety of reasons. Prior to any admissions in interview, we would certainly advise that we obtain disclosure and consider this with you before attending a police interview.
It is important to also consider the disclosure reliability when police forces are under such pressure with numerous amounts of devices to examine. A backlog can and does lead to disclosure problems where key evidence is not passed to defence solicitors until last minute, this could even be during a criminal trial. Having solicitors at the investigation stage to review disclosure at every possible opportunity and to question this where relevant can make the difference to a decision to charge being made.
Why wait when preparing your defence can begin?
Unfortunately, we cannot speed up the forensic process but what we can offer is legal advice, representation and support throughout a very difficult and what can be a confusing time.
If you or a family member would like to discuss any potential criminal proceedings, please contact our office on 0151 705 8488 to speak with one of our specialist sexual offence lawyers.