A technical error in the indictment, namely reference to the wrong statute, did not render the conviction unsafe as no prejudice had been caused. In addition, it was wrong for the trial judge, anticipating that an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment might be set aside by the Court of Appeal, to also impose a Sexual Offences Protection Order (“SOPO”): it duplicated his inevitable licence conditions and was therefore not “necessary”.
On 30 March 2012, the appellant was convicted of six sexual offences committed against five individuals between 1985 and 2008. In the Statement of Offence for the 2008 incident, the indictment mistakenly referred to the Sexual Offences Act 1956 rather than the Sexual Offences Act 2003 ("the 2003 Act"). He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for public protection
with a minimum term of six years, along with a Sexual Offences Protection Order ("SOPO"). He appealed against conviction and sentence.
Appeal against conviction
The appellant argued that, by virtue of section 3 of the Indictments Act 1915 and Rule 14.2 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2013, he had been convicted following an invalid trial on an invalid indictment and of an offence not known to law.
Held, there is a clear judicial and legislative steer away from quashing an indictment and allowing appeals purely due to technical defects. The error in the indictment was, indeed, a purely technical defect, everyone proceeded upon the basis that the appellant was charged under the 2003 Act for the 2008 incident and the trial judge summed up as if the offence was contrary to the 2003 Act. This was not a "bad indictment" or a "bad count" and the offence of which he was convicted was and is known to law. No prejudice was caused to the appellant and consequently the conviction was safe.
Appeal against sentence
The trial judge had determined that a SOPO was "necessary" under section 104 (1) (a) of the 2003 Act. This conclusion was reached despite the fact that the purpose of the order would be fulfilled by his inevitable licence conditions: according to the trial judge, an appeal against sentence might result in the Court of Appeal substituting for the indeterminate sentence a determine one, which would not then afford the kind of public protection afforded by a SOPO.
Stocker appealed against the SOPO arguing that the indeterminate sentence and inevitable licence conditions would protect the public.
Held, by the trial judge's interpretation, a SOPO should be imposed in virtually all cases of dangerous offenders because there is always the possibility of an appeal against the sentence. That cannot be right. He will be released only when deemed safe and will be subject to appropriate conditions. Consequently the order is quashed.
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