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Sexual Offences Articles

Can you go to jail for kissing a minor in the UK?

Legal protections of children are expansive in the UK, and they include criminal law provisions that punish those who engage in inappropriate activity – whether intended by the alleged perpetrator to be sexual or not – with a child. Sometimes, though, these laws can punish what was in reality an innocent act, or a mistaken one if the child happens to be around the age of majority. If you have been charged with an offence due to kissing a minor, or you believe you might be, this article contains everything you need to know about what might happen next. Remember, though, that the best advice comes from a qualified criminal defence solicitor, so we provide information on how to get in touch with one at the end.

Is it illegal to kiss a minor in the UK?

The law on offences against minors across the whole of the UK varies depending on whether you are in England and Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. This is because Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own respective criminal laws, which can differ in important respects from the criminal laws of England and Wales. This article relates to the law in England and Wales.

In England and Wales, there are laws against some forms of kissing of a minor, depending on a number of factors and considerations. These include:

  • the age of the respective parties;
  • the nature of the relationship between the parties, including whether it was pre-existing;
  • the existence of a duty of care between the parties;
  • the levels of maturity of the respective parties; and
  • the existence of any exploitation or coercion.

Generally speaking, it is illegal to kiss a minor (whether male or female) if they are under the age of 16 and the kissing amounts to sexual activity. Exactly what counts as ‘sexual activity’ is wide ranging, and the law only says that something is sexual if a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual by nature. This means there is a ‘common sense’ understanding of what sexual means – if to the investigating officer or prosecuting lawyer considers it to be sexual, that is enough to proceed.

Some examples of non-criminal kissing might include:

  • A family member kissing a 5-year-old child on the cheek at a family gathering
  • Two consenting and mature 15-year-olds kissing at a party
  • A parent kissing their child, even on the lips, when dropping them off at school

Some examples of criminal kissing might include:

  • A sports coach coercing a player to kiss in secret
  • A family member kissing a child on the lips in a prolonged or intimate manner
  • Two 15-year-olds kissing at a party, where one 15-year-old does not consent

If the alleged perpetrator is over the age of 18 and the investigating officer or prosecuting lawyer determines the kissing to be ‘sexual’ in nature, the charge is most likely to be the offence of ‘sexual activity with a child’ under Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

There are two ways in which this offence might arise, as stipulated in the wording of section 9:

  1. A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if—
    1. he intentionally touches another person (B),
    2. the touching is sexual, and
    3. either—
      1. B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over, or
      2. B is under 13.

A person also commits an offence if they cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity (under section 10 of the SOA 2003). If the child is a family member, a special offence applies under section 25 of ‘sexual activity with a child family member’.

What is the punishment for sexual activity with a child?

Anyone found guilty of the offence laid out above under section 9(1) could be liable on summary conviction (i.e. in the Magistrate’s Court) to imprisonment for up to 6 months, or a fine, or both. If convicted on indictment, i.e. by the Crown Court, the guilty party could be sent to prison for up to 14 years.

If found guilty of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, the offender may face up to 14 years in prison. Likewise, if convicted of a section 25 offence (sexual activity with a child family member), the maximum term is 14 years’ imprisonment.

Can you go to jail for kissing a minor in the UK?

The short answer is yes. If the kissing amounts to sexual activity per the SOA 2003, you could be sentenced to up to 14 years’ imprisonment for kissing a child.

Can two minors legally kiss?

In most cases, assuming the minors both consented to the activity and one or both were not especially vulnerable (for example, having severe learning difficulties), then a kiss between two minors is likely not to be prosecuted, even if it does indeed fall under a criminal offence in the strict wording of the legislation. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) sees no public interest in the prosecution of minors for consensual kissing. It is also highly unlikely that a police officer would actually arrest two minors for this activity (although there was some speculation in the press that changes to the law would cause teenagers to be arrested in the streets for public displays of affection, but this is likely just hyperbolised and not a true reflection of the law).

Can a 17-year-old date an 18-year-old in the UK?

The age of consent in the UK is 16 years old for both males and females, whether they are straight, gay or bisexual, so unless there is any unlawful activity or coercion involved, generally it is legal for a 17-year-old to date an 18-year-old in the UK.

Does the UK have a Romeo and Juliet law?

No, the UK does not have a close-in-age exemption (commonly known as a Romeo and Juliet law in jurisdictions like the United States). This means that there is no ‘excuse’ for, say, a 16-year-old having sexual activity with a 15-year-old, even if the 15-year-old fully consented to the activity and was mature enough to make that decision.

The law prohibits said activity, but whether an investigating police officer or prosecuting lawyer would actually charge the 16-year-old is another matter and is subject to considerable debate.

What is the legal age gap in dating in the UK?

In the UK, there is no such thing as a ‘legal age gap for dating’ as long as the age gap does not cross any age markers involves in sexual offences legislation. As such, it is not illegal for, say, a 20-year-old and an 80-year-old to date (or even marry), but it would be for a 20-year-old and a 14 year old to date where that dating involved any sexual activity or communications related thereto.

More difficult cases arise in relation to dating teenagers who are close in age, such as a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old. In this case, it is illegal for the teenagers to engage in any sexual activity, even if completely consensual, but it not illegal for them to spend time together going on dates or hanging out in private.

Is it against the law to flirt with a minor in the UK?

Flirting may seem relatively harmless to some people, but in the eyes of the law flirting with a minor is a serious offence. Flirting via direct in person communications or digital communications like text messages and social media falls under the offence of ‘sexual communication with a child’ under section 15A of the SOA 2003 (as added by the Serious Crime Act 2015).

A person over the age of 18 will be found guilty of this offence if they intentionally communicate with a person they reasonably believe to be under the age of 16 in a sexual manner (which means communications relating to sexual activity). If convicted, that person could face up to 2 years’ imprisonment.

Is sexting legal in the UK?

‘Sexting’ is legal insofar as it occurs between consenting adults, but not when it crosses into prohibited categories of communication (such as those arising from sharing intimate pictures of a partner) or where it involves children. ‘Sexting’ a child may give rise to a charge of sexual communication with a child under section 15A of the SOA 2003, which can be punished by up to 2 years’ imprisonment.

Where to get more help?

If you are facing any charges relating to kissing a minor or having otherwise inappropriate communications with a minor, get in touch with a qualified and experienced criminal defence solicitor who specialises in child sexual offences. Having a defence lawyer who knows the nuances and complex processes involved in these offences is critical. For a 100% free, non-judgemental, and confidential consultation, please get in touch with our team today.


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