Child Exploitation material (CEM) offences

Home / Areas of Expertise / Child Exploitation Material (CEM)

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

What is Child Exploitation Material (CEM)?

CEM is commonly known as child pornography. It includes photos, videos, stories, and drawings which depict a person under 16 years in a sexual context, or in 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.

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.

The usual way these charges arise is through a search warrant being executed by Taskforce ARGOS, or a local Child Protection Investigation Unit (CPIU).  A team of police conduct an analysis of your computers, hard drives, USBs, phones and other electronic devices to locate CEM. Any admissions made by you during the search warrant or later interview can be used against you. The forensic analysis of the material forms 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 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

In Queensland, sentencing for possessing CEM has typically been based on an analysis of the categorisation of the material. Usually, the “Oliver scale” forms the basis on which images and videos are graded (though see the recent developments below).

This scale has been adopted into the Child Exploitation Material Tracking System (CETS) scale. Material is categorised from 1-6 (with 5 being the worst category, and 6 being anime or cartoons). A report is produced with total numbers in each category.

The court will consider the total amount of images and videos, with a focus on the category of material (i.e. how offensive it is), rather than the total numbers. 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 a more detailed explanation, see this 2017 AFP report.

For charges like using a carriage service to access or distribute CEM, the court will look at factors such as the length of time the offending occurred over and the amount and type of files shared or accessed.

Recent developments

Due to the amount of work involved in categorising CEM, and for workplace health and safety reasons, Queensland and Federal police have recently opted to categorise material using a different scale than the usual Oliver scale. The new categorisation is known as the Interpol Baseline Scale (IBS).

The IBS scale involves categorising material into one of two categories — Category 1 (real child under 13 with focus on genitals) or Category 2 (under 16, sexual activity, including written or animated CEM). The reports produced using this scale are known as LACE reports, which is a reference to the program used to grade material.

Why choose George Criminal Lawyers?

It is vital that you have a lawyer who not only understands the law, but also the technological aspects of the evidence. This includes an understanding of programs such as uTorrent and BitTorrent, apps such as Telegram, 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 caches, 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 (C4ALL or LACE reports) are frequently misunderstood by inexperienced lawyers, who miss important details such as number of unique files, duplicates, deleted files and whether the correct categorisation has been conducted. Many lawyers don’t even examine the files in person to confirm the correct categorisation has taken place; they simply take the police’s word for it.

Our specialised approach to CEM 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, 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.

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.