The UK Supreme Court has ruled that lifelong monitoring on the UK’s sex offenders register is a disproportionate interference in the offender’s family lives and have granted two convicted sex offenders the right to challenge their inclusion on it. The case paves the way for other offenders to seek to have their details removed.
Offenders are placed on the register for life if they are sentenced to 30 months or more in jail, and once released have to notify police about where they are living and what name they are using. There are some 32,000 registered sex offenders in England and Wales and approximately half of them received sentences leading to lifelong monitoring.
The two offenders are a teenager convicted of rape and a 59-year-old man guilty of indecent assault. The teenage boy, known only as F, was jailed for 30 months in October 2005, aged 11, for raping a six-year-old boy and abusing another child. In the case of F, the requirement to be monitored had prevented him from taking a family holiday abroad and also stopped him from playing rugby league. The second case involved a man named Angus Aubrey Thompson who was jailed in 1996 for five years.
Five supreme court justices upheld a decision by the Court of Appeal that the lack of a review was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, the strongest judgement they can give against a piece of legislation. Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court, said: “It is obvious that there must be some circumstances in which an appropriate tribunal could reliably conclude that the risk of an individual carrying out a further sexual offence can be discounted to the extent that continuance of notification requirements is unjustified.”
The court did not say that the register itself was illegal, underlining the judgement of the lower courts that it was entirely lawful to monitor someone for life if they were a danger to society. The judgement means that the government will need to look again at the law and introduce a review mechanism to assess the risk they now posed.
SEX OFFENDER MONITORING
- 32,336 registered offenders in England and Wales
- Monitoring for life if jailed for 30 months or more
- Exact nature of monitoring depends on risk the individual poses
- No single database – but information shared by police forces and probation services
- Similar systems operate in Scotland and Northern Ireland
At the time of the High Court ruling the following comments were made:
Mike Pemberton, the solicitor for F, said his client wanted a fair chance to show that he had reformed. “This case is important because it considers the right of a child to mature and develop. At present, any child who commits an offence of this type is labelled for life with no consideration being given to the effect of growing older and learning important lessons from previous mistakes.”
Neil Atkinson, from the National Victims’ Association, said: “Although the human rights legislation has produced many worthwhile outcomes it has also been responsible for some patently absurd decisions. “When it comes to playing fast and loose with the safety of the general public the view of this charity is that it’s an abuse of this legislation. I would also just say the victims of this man must be devastated at this injustice.”
Clare Phillipson, director of Wearside Women in Need, a charity which was set up to help female victims of domestic violence, said the Human Rights legislation was being used inappropriately to the advantage of offenders. She said: “I’m sick to death of the human rights of sex offenders being put above the rights of their victims. “The sex offender register is a way of keeping track of the people who have been convicted of serious offences. “These offenders are manipulative and operate in secrecy. They need to know they can act covertly in order to target vulnerable women. “Anyone who is taken off the list can continue to be a danger.”