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Social Service Committee reports on Child Sex Offender register

March 24, 2016 at 11:53 AM

Social Service Committee reports on Child Sex Offender register

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*

The Social Service Committee has reviewed the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill and released its report, recommending by majority that the Bill be passed with amendments.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley introduced the Bill, which would establish a register of people convicted of child sex offences, in August 2015. The register would be established by Police and Corrections and include offenders aged 18 or over at the time of the offence and who have been:

  • Convicted of a qualifying offence and has been sentenced to prison, or
  • Sentenced to a non-custodial sentence and directed to be registered by the sentencing judge, or
  • Convicted of an equivalent offence and sentenced overseas, or have been on an overseas register with the intention of residing in New Zealand.
The purpose is to provide government agencies with the information needed to monitor child sex offenders in the community and assist the Police to more rapidly resolve cases of child sex offending.

The Social Service Committee report recommends a number of amendments to the Bill. These include a new clause to address to the opinion previously expressed by the Attorney-General that it would be "disproportionate to impose a lifetime continuation of registration and reporting obligations without providing some opportunity for a registrable offender to seek review of their necessity." The recommended amendment would allow people who are required to report for life, to request a review after 15 years.

Other amendments recommended in the report include:

  • Giving judges extra guidance when deciding whether to place a non-custodial offender on the register
  • Including the judge’s sentencing notes on the register
  • Revising what information is required from registered offenders
  • Setting standards around disclosure of personal offender information including consequences for unauthorised sharing of information.

During the submission process there were some calls to make the register public, including by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, New Zealand First and Family First. The Social Service Committee responded by recommended that the register should not be public:

"We note that most organisations who submitted, who are actively working with victims of abuse and/or sex offenders, advised against making the register public. They pointed out that there is little or no evidence to suggest that this would improve public safety overall. There is evidence, however, that it could increase the risk of reoffending by severely disrupting the life of the offender and their family."

The Select Committee received 135 submissions (from 118 individuals and 17 organisations).

The Labour Party, New Zealand First and the Green Party expressed minority views in the report. Labour said while it supported the intent of the bill, it had concerns about the effectiveness and cost of the registry. Labour said:

"Our concern is that the costs of setting up the register are disproportionate to the evidence in terms of benefit. Several submitters working in this area cited serious underfunding of proven strategies for curbing sexual offending and struggled to reconcile this underfunding with the investment of $146 million into a register. Submitters articulated the need for Government to place a higher emphasis on investing in research and evaluation of other means of reducing offending, such as specialist offender treatment, primary preventive education, as well as working with children, young people, families, and communities about recognising harmful behaviour."

Labour also noted:

"People can misinterpret the absence of a name on a register as an indication of safety despite the fact that the majority of those that perpetrate sexual offences against children are family members or people who are well known to the family. Therefore the benefits of a register to inform statutory agencies about the movements of child sex offenders is likely to be limited."

New Zealand First said it supported the Bill but believed the register should be publically accessible. New Zealand First also raised concerns about the cost of the bill noting that $85 million of the funding will come from existing sources: "This will mean resources, manpower, and time will be taken away from other areas within the Police, the Department of Corrections, and the Court system in order for the register to be functioning adequately."

The Green Party said it did not believe the bill should progress in its current form, but could consider support for amended legislation allowing judges and the New Zealand Parole Board discretion to impose a registration and reporting requirement in individual cases where the evidence suggests it is warranted. It noted a number of concerns primarily the infringement of civil rights and liberties. The Green Party said "The bill is almost certain to cause harm. It has been shown to impose significant financial and social costs and we have seen no firm evidence that it will do any good at all, let alone achieve its stated purpose of protecting children."

The New Zealand Law Society has also expressed concerns about the likely ineffectiveness of the register, and that the proposed register would infringe rights affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

The bill will now go back to Parliament for its second reading. 

Research

Research on sex offender registers internationally has found that many registers have little to no effectiveness in reducing sexual offending and registers may have unintended negative effects that can in fact reduce community safety. Research looking at the effectiveness of registers includes:

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policies for Reducing Sexual Violence against Women (Letourneau et al, 2010)

Background information

More detailed information about the bill is available from previous NZFVC news stories on the proposed register.