Questions and Answers on Forrest and Hall

Questions and Answers on Forrest and Hall

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There has been much speculation, questioning, and an element of incredulity, about the different sentences handed out to Stuart Hall and Jeremy Forrest this week – is it fair? Does it send out the right message? Does the mismatch in sentencing show that the law truly is an ass?

Here is some commentary from this week:

Here’s some questions that have come up. If there’s any others that you’d like us to look at, please let us know and we’ll be happy to try…

1. Forrest got 5½ years for abusing 1 girl, Hall 15 months for 14 victims. How is that right?

On the face of it this seems strange. There are two reasons, however, why it makes sense. Firstly, the offending is different. Whilst Mr Hall committed lots of offences against different victims, they were mainly ‘low level’ offences (in the sense that there are more serious offences that people commit, not that they were not serious). Mr Forrest only had one victim, but he repeatedly had sexual intercourse with his victim, which the law treats as more serious.

But, the bigger point, and the main reason for the seeming disparity, is the date on which the offences were committed. Mr Hall’s offending occured between 1967 and 1985 when the attitude of the public to this sort of offending was very, very different. Much criticism could be levelled at the laws of the time (with hindsight). The maximum sentence for what Mr Hall did was either 2 or 5 years at the time (whereas had he committed those offences now the maximum sentence is life).

For this reason it is not as simple as saying Mr Forrest got 4½ half times what Mr Hall got and therefore the law treats Mr Forrest’s offending as 4½ times as bad as Mr Hall. It doesn’t work like that.

In essence – comparing the sentences of Mr Hall and Mr Forrest is comparing apples and oranges – the circumstances of the relevant law are so different that no meaningful comparison can be made.

2. Why was Mr Forrest guilty when the victim was consenting?

The law in relation to sexual offences and the abduction offence is clear. Someone under the age of 16 cannot, in law, consent to the sexual activity (or being taken away by an adult).

Parliament has decided that children cannot give consent. This is in part a recognition that they are vulnerable and immature and therefore not able to properly make decision about things such as sex.

The Judge did not refer to the guideline for sentencing in sexual offence cases, however, in the guideline, ‘ostensible consent’ is effectively ‘built in’ to the guideline for these offences. This is because if there was no ostensible consent, the offence charged would be rape (if there was penetration) or sexual assault (if not). Therefore, the starting points and ranges have already been ‘reduced’ to take account of this ostensible consent.

3. We all know the name of Mr Forrest’s victim – why can’t she be named?

This is an area where the law hasn’t quite got to grips with the internet age.

There are two laws in place. Firstly, there is a blanket law that the complainant of a sexual offence cannot be named (Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992). This is irrespective of whether the victims name is known for any other reason (I will not elaborate). Please note that this applies to naming her on twitter.

Secondly, under s39 Children and Young Persons Act 1993, the Court has the power (which it will almost always exercise) to order that the name of a child be withheld from publication.

Although the offence of Child Abduction would not attract the restrictions in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, the ‘usual’ s39 order would have been in place. Now that the sexual offences have been alleged, the provisions of that  section apply.

In short – whilst it seems odd, that is the law and the reason for it. It could be argued that this is unrealistic in the age of twitter, facebook and the like. That is an argument that I have some sympathy with, but until there is a review and the law is changed – it is a criminal offence to name the victim!

4. Is Jeremy Forrest a paedophile?

This seems to be being much debated on twitter. In a sense, it is not a legal question as the term ‘paedophile’ is a sociological one, not a legal one. Given the law, Mr Forrest should not have gone along with, let alone encouraged, the behaviour of the complainant. See this statement from the NSPCC for their view.

Ultimately, the law is the law, and whatever one’s view of the age of consent, Mr Forrest was acting illegally and knew it. The exact label is perhaps of less significance.

5. Can Mr Forrest continue in a relationship with his victim?

Yes. She is now 16 and he is not her teacher any longer. Therefore the relationship would be lawful (there is a separate offence of sexual activity aged under 18 where there is a position of trust between the offender and victim).

In reality, Mr Forrest will be in prison until about 1st January 2015. Given that the victim is now over 16, it would probably not be lawful (as it would be a breach of her Art 8 rights) to have a Sexual Offences Prevention Order that prohibited Mr Forrest from contacting her.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The law really is strange. You say someone under 16 cannot consent to sex, so if two 15 year olds are having sex are they raping or abusing each other?

  2. Interesting stuff, thanks. I have three further questions arising:
    1) The name of Forrest’s ‘victim’ was *all over* the media last year when the two of them fled to France. Why wouldn’t the Acts you’ve mentioned above have applied equally then?
    2) The coverage yesterday suggested that the girl now hates her mother for making her testify against Forrest. Could she have refused to testify? Can someone be compelled to testify?
    3) When Forrest got to court yesterday for sentencing, he suddenly had to answer five further charges. This seemed to me to be opportunism by the CPS, in that now they’d got him for the abduction stuff they could really throw the book at him. Is it usual for extra charges to be pressed at the last minute in this way?

    • Thanks for that. In terms of the questions you asked :

      1. At the time you were talking about there were no ‘court proceedings’ in place for the purposes of s39 Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Also, at the time there was no allegation of any sexual offence for the purposes of Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.

      For that reason, neither of those two Acts would have ‘kicked in’.

      2. There is power to make a reluctant give evidence by the issuing of a witness summons. That will get them to court. It is a contempt of court to then not give evidence (so the witness could be locked up). This is not that uncommon a situation to happen. A court would generally be very reluctant to imprison a victim, particularly a young girl, in those circumstances however.

      In this case, it seems from the news reports that the evidence given by the girl was favourable to Mr Forrest in any event.

      3. The exact sequence of events aren’t clear, so this is just my guess – Mr Forrest was extradited only for the offence of Abduction. If you have a look at the links above about the principle of ‘specialty’ that should set out the reason why there was a legal bar on the sex offences.

      I assume that there must have been discussions between Mr Forrest’s lawyers and the prosecution about what would happen after the trial. It seems that Mr Forrest decided that he would not be successful in contesting that the sexual offences shouldn’t be prosecuted because of the extradition, so decided to accept them.
      Guessing still, but on Thursday after the verdict, police officers would have charged Mr Forrest. On Friday morning the Judge would have ‘sat as’ (treated himself as being) a District Judge and the Crown Court would have been a magistrates court. The sexual offences would then have been ‘sent’ to the Crown Court where he pleaded guilty (an overview of the whole procedure is here)

      It is extremely unusual for this to happen. I have never been involved with a case where that has happened, nor have I heard of one.

  3. On another point: some of Mr Hall’s victims are reported as saying that they will sue.

    How?

    Limitation has long since expired and this is not like the case of Mr Hoare who won the lottery and was suddenly worth suing. He is, as the judge said, a wealthy man and they have known who he is throughout – and an order for substituted service on his agent or the BBC would have been readily made. These people could have sued years ago. Is this not exactly what limitation laws are intended to prevent?

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