Victims of crimes committed decades ago may still get their day in court after the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders today instructed prosecutors to consider pressing ahead with their cases.
A long gap in the time taken to report the crime or the likelihood of a nominal punishment should not rule out a potential prosecution - instead the traumatising personal impact of the event on the alleged victim should also be carefully considered along with whether a court hearing will help them come to terms with what happened, according to Ms Saunders.
It is hoped the shift in focus will help victims feel a sense of justice in a legal system which was previously reluctant to bring potential charges in the public interest due to the time that has passed and the likelihood the criminal might only get a nominal penalty.
Ms Saunders will be referring to this interim guidance to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in a speech to the St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester later today.
In a pledge to long-suffering victims, Ms Saunders claimed that by using this new approach "we will consider cases in the same way be they 30 days or 30 years old".
She said: "I want potential victims of crime to know that it doesn't matter how long ago a crime is alleged to have been committed, we will take it seriously and we will take the views of the victims, or their families where appropriate, into account when deciding if we should prosecute.
"Of course, where the most serious offences are being alleged it is nearly always in the public interest to prosecute, and the evidential test remains the same - only those cases where there is sufficient evidence will be considered for prosecution.
"But whereas previously we have thought that the passage of time in certain cases lessened the public interest in prosecuting, that is not the case anymore. We will consider cases in the same way be they 30 days or 30 years old. I am determined that victims of these crimes get their day in court, where appropriate."
New legal guidance is now in force in relation to cases where a nominal penalty is likely to be passed, often because an offender has been prosecuted and sentenced for similar offending previously.
Ms Saunders is asking for public views on the approach for the next three months. This guidance will also be applied immediately to cases currently being considered by the joint CPS/Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) National Child Sexual Abuse Panel.
The new approach requires prosecutors to consider that "the impact over time might have become greater and led to adverse effects on the victim's physical or mental health and their circumstances in general."
It adds: "A prosecution, especially for a more serious non-recent offence may help the victim through the offender being brought to justice even if the courts are likely to only impose a nominal penalty. An admission or finding of guilt may help the victim come to terms with the offence committed against them."
Convictions in some cases can lead to a range of orders being imposed such as disqualification from working with children, compensation for victims, sexual offences prevention orders, financial reporting and deportation.
The guidance also reminds prosecutors that these orders should not necessarily be considered as a nominal penalty. This may mean that it may be in the public interest to bring a prosecution in cases where they are likely to be imposed after a conviction.
The CPS consultation on the guidance will run until April 24.
Ms Saunders said: "I want the public's views on this shift in approach, which I believe is necessary not only for new complainants bravely coming forward for the first time, but also because we are seeing cases coming forward to the joint CPS/Acpo child sexual abuse panel for review, where the allegations are in relation to offending some years ago.
"Victims may not have come forward in the past due to a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, or for many other reasons, but this is changing. The passage of time is not a barrier to prosecution and I hope this guidance will give prosecutors the tools to help us get justice for victims who may have been living with the trauma of the past offending for many decades.
"I urge all those with an interest in tackling these crimes to respond to the consultation."