Section 3 of the Criminal Law (Sex Offences) Act 2006 as amended by Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Act 2007 makes it a criminal offence to engage or attempt to engage in a sexual act with a child under 17 years. The maximum sentence is five years, ten years if the accused is a person in authority. A person in authority means:
- A parent, step-parent, guardian, grandparent, uncle or aunt of the victim, or
- any person acting in loco parentis (in place of parent or parents) to the victim, or
- any person responsible for the education, supervision or welfare of the victim.
The maximum sentence is greater for a second or subsequent offence.
The accused may argue that he or she honestly believed that the child was aged 17 years or over. The court must then consider whether or not that belief was reasonable. It is not a defence to show that the child consented to the sexual act.
The consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is required for any prosecution of a child under the age of 17 years for this offence. A person who is convicted of this offence and is not more than two years older than the victim is not subject to the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 2001. This means they will not have their name placed on the Sex Offenders Register.
A girl aged under 17 years who has sexual intercourse may not be convicted of an offence on that ground alone.
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