The Supreme Court ruled yesterday (21 April) that individuals should not be kept on the Sex Offenders' Register for life without the possibility of review.
The ruling follows a case brought by two sex offenders, one of whom had committed a sex offence when he was only eleven, but was expected to stay on the Register for the rest of his life. The judges did not dispute that some offenders should be kept on the Register for life, but said that it was wrong to expect this to happen with no possibility of review in individual cases.
Until now, any sex offender sentenced to prison for two and a half years or longer has been placed on the Register for life. There are 32,000 registered sex offenders in England and Wales, around half of whom are subject to lifelong monitoring.
“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” said the President of the Supreme Court.
One of the offenders who brought the case, who is still a teenager and known as F, was only eleven when he raped another child. His solicitor, Mike Pemberton, said that his client should have a chance to show that he had changed.
"This case is important because it considers the rights of a child to mature and develop," he said, “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”.
Pemberton emphasised that, “The case does not argue that offenders should automatically be removed from the Register but merely provides an opportunity for the risk they pose to be reviewed”.
The judges said that there was no evidence that it was impossible to identify whether a sex offender still posed a risk. They pointed out that several other countries have developed methods for making such assessments.
The Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal that condemning people to being listed on the Sex Offenders' Register for life with no possibility of review is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Following the ruling, whoever forms a government after the general election on 6 May will be under pressure to change the law on the Sex Offenders' Register to allow the possibility of review.
“It would be dangerously naïve to imagine that every sex offender will repent and change. But it would be equally simplistic and damaging to assume that none ever can or will,” said Symon Hill, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia.
He added, “When we look at the horrific case of an eleven-year-old boy raping another child, we need to ask what sort of society we have produced. One of our first questions must be, How can we prevent further sex offences?
“If we are to tackle and reduce sex crime, we must hold out the possibility that a child who committed rape at the age of eleven can come to a position of genuine remorse and a reformed life. The chances of this individual ever living as a morally responsible adult, the chances of him integrating into society and not re-offending, may well be damaged by demanding that his name remains on the Sex Offenders' Register, with permanent denial of review, for the rest of his life, for something he did as a child”.