Sex offender registration appeals to go ahead

Home Secretary Theresa May: Government is 'appalled' by the court ruling

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Thousands of sex offenders in England and Wales are set to be given the right to appeal against having to register with the police for life.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the government would make the "minimum possible changes" to comply with a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

She said ministers were "appalled" by the ruling and the bar for appeals would be set as "high as possible".

Sex offenders will only be able to appeal 15 years after leaving prison.

The Supreme Court ruled that denying offenders the right of appeal was incompatible with their human rights.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the ruling did state that it should be "open to Parliament" to maintain the current position if it saw fit, so long as there was provision in law to review matters in future if it became appropriate to do so.

She also said Labour was not convinced the new regime was tough enough to guarantee public safety.

"Given the current evidence on repeat sex offending, it is hard to envisage any circumstances in which people will think it is justified to take someone who has been convicted of a serious sex offence off the register," Ms Cooper said.

"Yet the home secretary's scheme makes it possible for the police to do exactly that with no appeal for victims or the public, and no consideration of Parliament's views on the wider risks and the importance of a strong precautionary approach."

Analysis

The ruling to allow sex offenders the right to have their names removed from the sex offenders register is one of those issues governments dread.

It almost guarantees them sackloads of irate letters and coruscating tabloid headlines.

And yet the inevitable row might not be as painful as ministers fear.

Firstly, unlike the recent judgement on prisoners' votes, this was a decision made by Britain's Supreme Court, not the European Court of Human Rights.

Secondly, it's not clear whether any change in the way the register is managed would require primary legislation, avoiding the possibility of a protracted Parliamentary tussle.

And lastly the Scottish government has already implemented the change without suffering undue damage.

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said adults who sexually abused children should stay on the register for life, adding: "We can never be sure their behaviour will change."

Only individuals sentenced to more than 30 months for a sex-related crime are required to register with police for life.

It is estimated that about 24,000 sex offenders who were required to register for life, including paedophiles and rapists, could be affected by the ruling.

Qualifying sex offenders are currently required to notify the police of their personal details, any change of address and when they travel abroad.

There is no centrally held register of sex offenders in the UK, but the Home Office says the system of notifying the police is commonly known as the sex offenders register.

Last year, two convicted sex offenders used human rights laws to challenge the system and won the right to appeal against their life-long registration.

The two offenders were a teenager convicted of rape and a 59-year-old man guilty of indecent assault.

The teenage boy, known only as F, had been jailed for 30 months in October 2005, aged 11, for raping a six-year-old boy.

The second case involved a man named Angus Aubrey Thompson, who was jailed in 1996 for five years.

Both the offenders said their life-long registration with no chance of a review was a disproportionate interference in their family lives.

In the case of F, he said he had been prevented from taking a family holiday abroad and from playing rugby league.

'Minimum changes'

Mrs May told the Commons the government was "appalled" by the Supreme Court ruling, but there was no possibility of further appeal.

Start Quote

These people are like leopards, they don't change their spots”

End Quote Mark Williams-Thomas Child protection expert

"This government is determined to do everything we can to protect the public from predatory sexual offenders," she said. "And so we will make the minimum possible changes to the law in order to comply with this ruling."

She said the Scottish government had already amended its laws to allow convicted adults to seek a review after 15 years on the sex offenders register, but the rules in England and Wales would be "much tougher".

"Offenders can only apply for consideration of removal after waiting 15 years following release from custody - in England and Wales there will be no automatic appeals," she said.

"The final decision of whether an offender should remain on the register will be down to the police, not the courts as in Scotland.

"There will be no right of appeal against the police's decision to keep an offender on the register. That decision will be final."

She added the government was about to launch a consultation on closing down "four existing loopholes" in the registration system, including making it compulsory for offenders to notify the police if they intended to travel abroad for even one day, as opposed to the current three days or more.

Lyn Costello from Mothers Against Murder And Aggression: ''We are playing with people's lives''

BBC political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue said the ruling meant ministers were now "committed to introducing a review process".

"They were due to bring proposals forward around now to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 but government sources have told the BBC an appeal system won't be introduced to Parliament until the spring," he said.

He added the move was likely to infuriate backbenchers on both sides of the Commons who last week registered their disapproval over plans to give prisoners the vote in elections following legal decisions based on human rights laws.

Mark Williams-Thomas, a former police officer who worked in child protection, is concerned about the decision - particularly in relation to child sex offenders.

"These people are like leopards, they don't change their spots," he said.

"What we will end up with is potentially a very dangerous situation where someone has committed offences in the past and be able to say they haven't committed any new offences and therefore don't present a risk.

"But they are a risk in the same way as an alcoholic is always an alcoholic."

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