Criminal Justice process

The criminal justice process can be complicated and full of jargon. This section aims to talk you through the process. It will guide you through the main restrictions and requirements relevant for internet offenders to help you when you work with them and/or their families.

This might be a typical journey through the criminal justice process:

Bail conditions

Police can impose bail conditions when they are investigating someone for an offence. Common conditions for suspected internet offenders are not to have unsupervised contact with children and not to live and sleep at an address with children. The bail conditions imposed will vary between individuals. Breaching bail conditions is a criminal offence.

Formal police caution

A caution can be offered at the police and Crown Prosecution’s (CPS) discretion. For a caution to be given a court hearing is not necessary and the caution can be offered and accepted at the police station. Although not a criminal conviction, a caution will still appear on a person’s criminal record and will show up on a standard and enhanced disclosure. Acceptance of a caution for a sexual offence would also include 2 years on the Sex Offenders Register.

Sex offender register (SOR)

The notification requirements for those convicted or cautioned for sexual offences (commonly referred to as the ‘sex offenders register’) means that the offender needs to notify certain personal details to the police in their area.  These include:

  • Name and any aliases;
    Date of birth;
    National Insurance number;
    Main address and any addresses at which they reside for more than 7 days in a 12 month period;
  • Notify police of all foreign travel
  • Notify police weekly where registered as having ‘no fixed abode’
  • Notify police where living or staying with a person aged under 18 for 12 hours or more
  • Notify police of certain passport, credit card and bank account detailsor
  • Any changes to the above details.

Failure to comply with the notification requirements is a criminal offence punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.  The Police have a specialist team within each Police area who will monitor people required to register through unannounced home visits.

The length of time to which individuals are subject to the notification requirements is based upon the sentence received, starting from the date of conviction (not sentence):

Sentence Length of notification
Life, Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP), Imprisonment of 30 months or more, admission to hospital under a restriction order or when subject to an order for lifelong restriction Indefinite notification
Imprisonment of more than 6 months but less than 30 months 10 years
Imprisonment of 6 months or less or admission to hospital without a restriction order 7 years
Caution 2 years
Any other outcome such as a community order 5 years
A conditional discharge Notification requirements apply for the period of the discharge

Finite notification periods are halved if the person is under 18 when convicted or cautioned.

(Information from and Manchester Police.)

A custodial (prison) sentence

If the judge passes a custodial sentence then the offender will be taken immediately from court to the prison where their sentence will commence. If an offender has been sentenced to less than 4 years custody, providing there are no additional concerns and the offender does not cause difficulty whilst in custody, the offender will be released after serving half of their sentence. If the sentence is for 4 years or more, then the offender will have to serve at least two thirds of the custodial sentence.


Upon release from prison an offender will be supervised by the National Probation Service under a period known as a Licence. There are a number of standard Licence conditions:

  1. To keep in touch with your supervising officer in accordance with any instruction you may be given;
  2. If required, to receive visits from your supervising officer at your home/place of residence (e.g. an Approved Premises);
  3. To reside permanently at an address approved by your supervising officer and notify him/her in advance of any proposed change of address or any proposed stay (even for one night) away from that approved address;
  4. Undertake only such work (including voluntary work) approved by your supervising officer and notify him or her in advance of any proposed change;
  5. Not to travel outside the United Kingdom unless otherwise permitted by your supervising officer (permission for which will be given in exceptional circumstances only) or for the purpose of complying with immigration/deportation requirements;
  6. To be well behaved, not to commit any offence and not to do anything which could undermine the purpose of your supervision, which is to protect the public, prevent you from re-offending and help you to re-settle successfully into the community.

Additional Licence conditions can also be added (these are requested by the probation officer and added if approved by the prison governor). Additional Licence conditions must be relevant to the offence; common ones for internet offenders include restrictions of contact with children or restrictions with regard to their internet use. The Licence conditions mean that the probation officer has some control over accommodation, employment and who an offender will have contact with in the community.

Community order

A community order is an order to serve the sentence for the offence in the community under the supervision of the National Probation Service. A community order would usually be given with a condition to attend a community based treatment programme such as the Internet Sex Offender Treatment Programme (I-SOTP) or the community Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP). A community order can come with other conditions as well such as unpaid community work and curfew orders. However, with regard to sexual offences the most likely condition would be to attend a treatment programme. Community orders tend to be given for at least 2 years, in order to allow the offender to complete a rehabilitation programme within the community during the life of the order (but can be for a maximum of 3 years). Not all offenders will be suitable for the treatment programmes so they would be assessed on an individual basis.

The probation officer does not have control over an offender’s accommodation, employment or who they have contact with in the same way as if the offender were on Licence.

Suspended sentence

Like a community order, a suspended sentence allows the offender to serve their sentence in the community. Also like a community order, a suspended sentence can include conditions that the offender must abide by, usually attendance on a rehabilitation programme. However, the difference with a suspended sentence is that a custodial sentence has been given but the judge has allowed this to be deferred and served in the community to give the offender a chance to prove themselves law abiding and adhere to the conditions set upon them. If the offender fails to comply or commits any further offences, they will be required to serve the length of time in custody that was suspended. In a community order no custodial sentence has been passed.

For example, if a judge sentences an offender to 6 months in custody suspended for 2 years, what this means is that the judge is saying the offence committed was serious enough to warrant 6 months in custody, but because of X, Y or Z (possible mitigation), the offender will be allowed to serve this in the community whilst adhering to the prescribed conditions. However, if the offender does not adhere to the conditions, they will be made to serve the 6 months in custody. If the offender commits another offence within that 2 year suspension period, they would serve not only the sentence passed for the most recent offence, but also the 6 months custody previously given for the original offence.

The probation officer does not have control over the offender’s accommodation, employment or who they have contact with in the same way as if the offender were on Licence.

Sex Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) now Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO)

This is a court order that can be requested by the police or the court when there is a specific concern about an individual in order to prevent them engaging in a particular activity. A SOPO/SHPO can be requested from the court to go along side any of the above sentencing options, including a caution. A SOPO/SHPO can vary in the amount of time it is granted for. Commonly requested restrictions include: preventing the offender from accessing the internet on a computer that has not had recognised monitoring software installed; or prohibiting offenders from deleting their internet history.

Children’s Services

If the Police investigate someone for online offending and they have children or contact with children then Children’s Services can become involved with the family. The level of contact will vary depending on the individual situation. The Police will often make the initial referral to Children’s Services but the referrals can come from other organisations. Children’s Services will usually have contact with the child’s parents and confirm they are aware that an offender has been arrested and what offences he is being investigated for/charged with. Sometimes the contact will be limited to this discussion and agreements around the offender’s future contact with the child.  For example, an agreement might be made that the offender will only have contact with the child if it is supervised. If the offender lives with the child/ren then they may be required to move out of the family home while an assessment is undertaken.

A section 47 enquiry can be initiated to decide if further involvement is required and what type of action is needed to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm. The outcome of the assessment and further involvement will depend on the concerns/risks, the contact the offender has and the ability of the other parent to be protective of their children.

Children’s Services may ask the parents to undertake some specific work to address risk factors (such as treatment programmes for offenders or protective parenting work for parents). The outcome of Children’s Services assessments will vary depending on individual risks and circumstances.

Multi-agency working

All the agencies mentioned will need to work together with the protection of children at the centre of the work. It is often a difficult role to assess and manage risk. Not all internet offenders present a risk of contact offending but some do and identifying those who are most likely to is an on-going challenge. Risk assessment tools are used that can predict likelihood of reconviction but they have to be used in conjunction with clinical judgement about individual cases.

To work effectively together agencies need to share information and whilst data protection and confidentiality are important, information can and will be shared if there are concerns that a child is at risk of serious harm.

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