A man who bought sexual services from a 13-year-old girl has had his conviction for indecent assault overturned, with the Final Court of Appeal accepting his defense that he believed the girl’s claims that she was of age.
In a judgement delivered today by the city’s top appeal court, the five-judge panel sided with the man, who was 22 and a student at the time, and reinstated an earlier acquittal.
The man had contacted the girl in August 2014 via an adult website, on which she had posted an advertisement describing herself as 17 and offering sexual services at listed prices.
They arranged to meet and went to a guesthouse, where they showed up together and the girl performed oral sex on the man.
The man was initially found not guilty of the offense, with a magistrate in 2015 ruling the girl really looked more mature than her age, had admitted she would try to dress older when meeting clients, and had consented to the act, according to RTHK.
However the prosecution appealed and in 2017, and the High Court ruled the man should have been found guilty.
It ruled his “honest and reasonable belief as to her age” was “no defense” given that someone below 16 years of age cannot give consent in a legal sense.
However, in the reasoning published by the Final Court of Appeal, this interpretation — treating the allegation as an “offencs of absolute liability” — was incorrect.
The court sided with the original magistrate’s decision that the accused had “a good defense” if he proved that it was “more probable than not that he honestly and reasonably believed that the girl was 16 or over.”
“Given the magistrate’s findings, the Court allowed the appeal, set aside the decision of the Court of First Instance and restored the Appellant’s acquittal,” the judgement reads.