Written by Bill Doogue. Partner, Doogue & O’Brien Criminal Defence Lawyers
Legislation will be introduced to WA Parliament this week to create an online register, enabling people access to the names and photographs of sex offenders who live in their area.
Did we not see the inevitability of this?
The base populism of such a move was always going to be impossible for the politicians to oppose.
The inexorable slide from the establishment of the Registries in each State, to the publication of the information will lead to the public baying for blood, increased vigilantism and less chance of rehabilitation for convicted sex offenders.
The West Australian Attorney-General is quoted in Perth Now as saying “the rights of parents and guardians to protect their children outweighed the risk that released sex offenders could be persecuted.”
If there is a more ignorant or ludicrous comment made this year by an Attorney-General, please send it to me.
Sex offences are complex and varied. They often involve people with severe psychological problems or who are mentally handicapped. They involve young people who are just over the cusp of adulthood. They involve offences going back 40 years where the person has demonstrated in those 40 years that what they did as a child has not been repeated and they have lived a respectable and meaningful life.
There are a wide range of sex offences. Much as some members of the public appear outraged there is a necessity to grade sexual offences and acknowledge that some are more serious than others. That there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to such a complex issue.
Rehabilitation of sex offenders is what protects our community the most. Terrorising those that have, amongst other things, psychological and self-esteem issues, sees you run the very high risk of making them more unstable. And, that will lead to more offending not less. As night follows day.
Newspaper Perth Now reports that, primarily, the register will allow anyone to access photographs of repeat or dangerous sex offenders by putting their postcodes in a police website. They will also have access to names and aliases, dates of birth and photographs of any child sex offenders being sought by WA Police, following a breach of bail or reporting conditions or ask police if a person who has unsupervised contact with their children for more than three days a year is on the register.
The problems associated with this are manifestly substantial. As illustrated by real issues we are confronted with by our clients. Recently, one of our clients was convicted of a very minor sexual assault (a touching on the breast) by a Magistrate. He was placed on the Register. After coming to us, we successfully appealed that decision. The Judge accepted that his arm could have brushed the girls breast accidentally, a point he had persistently maintained. After some time, he received a letter asking him to call and book in for his next reporting session. But he should have been removed from the Register. Under a disclosure system he would be identified as a sex offender when he shouldn’t be there.
The public should be aware that to decrease sex offending, they need to address the issues with more depth. A register has a superficial appeal but does not hold up to scrutiny.
If more people end up hurt or abused because of this system then is it worth it?
Not in my opinion and I am yet to see anything in my years of closely dealing with sex offences and offenders that will convince me that it will help decrease sex offending.
Shallow logic makes bad legislation.
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