Bob Higgins, former football coach, was sentenced to 24 years and three months imprisonment in June 2019 for abusing young players at Southampton FC and Peterborough United between 1971 and 1996.
He was previously acquitted of charges against six complainants in 1992. These six complainants were told that their allegations against Mr Higgins were ‘not serious’ enough for re-trial.
The recent conviction of Bob Higgins prompted the Victims’ Commissioner of England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, to propose a wider remit of child sexual abuse cases which could be eligible for a re-trial.
The Commissioner penned a letter to the Justice Secretary addressing the double jeopardy rule as set out in Chapter 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which prevents people from being tried twice for the same offence.
The Commissioner stated that we now have a much better understanding of the “terrible and long term consequences of sexual offences committed against children.”
As the law stands the double jeopardy rule does not apply to serious ‘qualifying’ offences involving sexual penetration. She suggests that ‘qualifying’ offences should include the “non-penetrative sexual abuse of children.”
The proposed change to the law would cover ‘inappropriate touching’ but would not cover offences relating to the possession and procurement of indecent images of children and offences stemming from abuse of power and trust.
The Ministry of Justice has since issued a statement qualifying the double jeopardy rule saying that it “exists to ensure that once justice is served, an acquitted defendant cannot be unnecessarily subjected to additional prosecutions.”
Victims of less serious cases would have to provide new and compelling evidence and show that a re-trial was in the public interest.
Written by Sophie Cottam, Paralegal at BLM