NSW Council for Civil Liberties warns of vigilante risk in making child sex offenders register public

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) warns of the risks of the Federal Government making any register of child sex offenders public.

President of the CCL, Pauline Wright said, “The announcement today by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of a proposal to make a national register of child sex offenders public is both unnecessary and dangerous. Every Australian State and Territory has already brought in a law based on a national model requiring people found guilty of serious child sex offending to be entered on a register of offenders. This register allows police across jurisdictions to share information about people on the register.”

Ms Wright said “It is one thing to allow law enforcement and parole authorities access to information on a register of child sex offenders, but allowing members of the public access would open the gate for vindictive vigilante action against people in the community who have already been punished by a court.”

Another concern is the broad range of offences for which people are automatically included on the register. Ms Wright said “At the moment, a wide range of offences results in people being listed on the register. When the term ‘child sex offender’ is used we automatically think of abhorrent violent offences against children, but the kinds of offences requiring an offender to be listed can also include sexting and sexual activity between consenting young people. To make the register public would expose young people of say 18 years of age who had engaged in sexual activity with a consenting younger person to being targeted by vigilantes ignorant of the consensual nature of their offending.”

“There is also concern that old offences will not be distinguished from new offences, meaning that a person sentenced many years ago, who has served their time and been completely rehabilitated is subject to unwarranted public scrutiny” said Ms Wright. “The idea of being punished once and once only is fundamental to a free and fair society”.

She said “The decision to require a person to be on a child sex offenders register should be made by the sentencing judge who is aware of all the evidence and the circumstances of the offence. Because of the serious consequences of being on a register, including being unable to obtain a clear Working With Children Check to gain employment, the decision to require a
person to be listed on the register should be made only where the sentencing court is satisfied that the offender actually poses a risk to children”.

To say that only the postcode of the offender will be publicly available is not sufficient to protect people against vindictive vigilantism. Ms Wright said “while a post code for some Sydney suburbs would cover a large population making it potentially difficult for vigilantes to find an individual, it would quite different in a small country town.”

“Information on the child sex offenders register should only be accessible by law enforcement authorities, and it should be an offence for any person to unlawfully disclose information on it.”

Contacts in relation to this statement.
Pauline Wright
0418 292 656