Child Exploitation material (CEM) offences

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We are criminal lawyers based in Brisbane, with a focus on defending clients charged with Child Exploitation Material (CEM) and Child Abuse Material (CAM) offences. These offences are serious and your future depends on choosing the right lawyer. You’ve come to the right place.

What is CEM/CAM?

CEM or CAM is commonly known as child pornography. In Queensland, our legislation has defined the term to include photos, videos, stories, and drawings which depict a person under 16 years in a sexual context, or an offensive or demeaning context, or being subjected to cruelty, abuse or torture. It has to cause a reasonable adult offence in order for it to be illegal.

Under Commonwealth legislation, the term used is “child abuse material” (CAM). The definition of CAM is much broader, and includes material involving a child under 18 years of age (as opposed to 16 in Queensland).

Queensland charges commonly include possessing, distributing, and making CEM available. Commonwealth charges include using a carriage service to access, make available, and distribute, child abuse material.

Police investigations and search warrants

Typically, these types of charges are a result of police either receiving information about a specific IP address, username, or email address being used for CEM/CAM, or by tracking IP addresses of people downloading torrents. For example, we have seen many cases of apps like Kik or websites such as MEGA ( reporting illegal material to police, resulting in charges. Once the IP address can be matched to an address, police then apply for a search warrant, which is usually executed by Taskforce ARGOS (a specialist unit), or a local Child Protection Investigation Unit (CPIU). 

A team of police then arrive at your doorstep early one morning, and conduct an analysis of your computers, hard drives, USBs, phones and other electronic devices to locate CEM, using in-field triage software. Of course, any admissions made by you during the search warrant or later interview can be used against you. If evidence is found on any devices, then you will be charged with an offence or several offences, depending on what the data reveals. The forensic analysis of the material will then form the basis on which  a court will sentence you, or a jury will be asked to find you guilty.

Penalties and sentencing

The maximum penalties have steadily increased, with maximum penalties of 14 years for possessing CEM and 15 years for using a carriage service for it. Some charges carry even higher maximum penalties of up to 25 years. The Queensland Government has set an expectation that sentences of imprisonment are imposed, even for first time offenders. 

As of 14 September 2020, the law says that actual imprisonment must be imposed unless there are exceptional circumstances. See our article explaining what this means here: Child pornography (CEM) — the new offences and changes to sentencing.

In addition to any penalty imposed by the court, there are also mandatory reporting obligations imposed after conviction of a CEM or CAM offence, which is often referred to as being on the sex offenders register. You can read all about the reporting regime here.

Analysis and grading of material

Sentencing for CEM charges is primarily based on an analysis of the quantity and seriousness of the material downloaded, accessed, created, or distributed. That means the court will consider the total amount of images and videos, but with a primary focus on the category of material (i.e. how offensive it is).

Previously, the well-known “Oliver scale” provided a way for images and videos to be categorised. This scale formed the basis of the Child Exploitation Material Tracking System (CETS) scale, with material categorised from 1-6 (with 5 being the worst category, and 6 being anime or cartoons). A report was then produced with total numbers in each category.

The Oliver scale categories are set out in the below table.



Category 1No sexual activity
Category 2Solo/sex act between children
Category 3Non-penetrative: adult/child
Category 4Penetrative: child-child/adult-child
Category 5Sadism, bestiality, child abuse
Category 6Animated or virtual

For charges like using a carriage service to access or distribute CEM, there may not be images or videos which can be categorised, because they were deleted, or only existed in a temporary format. Therefore, the court will look at other factors such as the length of time the offending occurred over and the amount and type of files shared or accessed (if that evidence is available).

Recent developments — LACE categorisation system

More recently, police have opted to categorise material using a different scale than the usual Oliver scale. The new categorisation system is known as the Interpol Baseline Scale (IBS).

The IBS scale involves categorising material into one of two categories (see below table). The reports produced using this scale are known as LACE reports, which is a reference to the program used to grade material (Bluebear Law Enforcement Against Child Exploitation). This software primarily uses hash values of files to match them against a  database of previously categorised files, saving significant time and increasing investigator wellbeing.



Category 1 (INTERPOL Baseline)Real prepubescent child under 13, involved in (or witnessing) a sexual act, with a focus on genitals or anal region
Category 2 (Other Illegal)Any other illegal files involving children under 16, including written or animated CEM

Why choose George Criminal Lawyers?

It is vital that you have a lawyer who not only understands the law, but — most importantly — the technological aspects of the evidence. This includes an extensive understanding of torrent software such as uTorrent and BitTorrent, apps such as Telegram, Kik, Signal, and WhatsApp, and anonymising technology such as VPNs and Tor. It is also vital that your lawyer understands technical aspects of operating systems include cache files, deleted files, temporary internet files and private browsing data.

Forensic reports are often overlooked by lawyers who don’t understand them, and who don’t carefully examine details that can prove or disprove the allegations against you. In addition, categorisation reports (LACE reports) are frequently misunderstood by inexperienced lawyers, who overlook important details such as the number of unique files, duplicates, and deleted files. Many lawyers don’t even examine the files in person to confirm the correct categorisation has taken place, or whether the metadata actually proves the offence; they simply take the police’s word for it.

Our specialised approach to CEM and CAM offences

When it comes to sentencing, our approach is tailored to your specific circumstances because we realise there is no “one size fits all” approach for these types of matters. We carefully consider your background, employment and education. If relevant, we also investigate your mental health, including any mental health diagnosis or issues with drugs and alcohol.

Our close working relationships with psychologists and psychiatrists developed over many years means we can produce reports to the court which address every necessary consideration when it comes to sentencing, such as psychiatric diagnosis, treatment undertaken specific to CEM or CAM, and risk of re-offending. We refer you to experts right from the beginning of your matter to ensure that by the time you face a District Court Judge you have done everything possible to show exceptional circumstances exist and avoid being sent to prison.

And if you want to contest the charges against you, then our extensive technical and legal experience in this area means you have the best possible chance of being found not guilty. We understand how to read, analyse and argue against digital forensic data obtained by police.

Our careful and meticulous approach to every CEM matter can mean the difference between actual jail or not. We have achieved results unmatched by many others, such as a good behaviour bond for accessing CEM in New South Wales, and probation without conviction for possessing CEM in Queensland.