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GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS BETTER TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM SEX AND VIOLENT OFFENDERS

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A package of measures to strengthen the protection of children and ...
A package of measures to strengthen the protection of children and

provide better information to the public on the management of sex and

violent offenders in the community, have been announced by home

secretary Jack Straw.

Proposals include placing, for the first time, an important new

statutory duty on the police and probation services jointly to

establish arrangements for assessing and managing the risks posed by

all sex offenders and other dangerous offenders released into the

community.

This will be coupled with a power for the secretary of state to issue

guidance relating to these arrangements designed to better inform the

public. That guidance will also help to ensure a consistent approach

to risk management.

A statutory duty also will be placed on the probation service to ask

victims or their families if they want to be consulted about the

release arrangements for sex and violent offenders sentenced to

twelve months or more. Where they ask for it victims or their

families will be kept informed of the offender's release arrangements

and details of any licence conditions restricting his movements.

The package also includes proposals to tighten up the operation of

the Sex Offenders' Register and for a new Sex Offender Restraining

Order.

Home secretary Jack Straw said:

'The government has a strong record of steadily improving the

protection of children and has continued to give priority to this

work through the current review of the Sex Offenders' Act set up in

June.

'The tragedy of Sarah Payne's death touched everyone's lives. We have

I believe recognised the very strong public concern which her murder

has evoked. This has been brought home to us very strongly in the

discussions we have had with Mr and Mrs Payne about how the law could

be improved.

'The intention of these measures is to provide stronger safeguards

for children and also to reassure the public about risk management of

sex offenders in the community through the provision of more

information about these arrangements.

'These proposals will be put before parliament at the earliest

opportunity and we hope they will receive cross-party support.'

The home secretary added:

'These proposals have come about after close consultation with the

police and probation services. As part of this, I have considered

very closely the question whether there could be some form of

controlled access to the Sex Offenders' Register. But in practice

controlling such access would be impossible to enforce. The arguments

against a general right of access are well rehearsed. Such an

arrangement would not in our judgement assist the protection of

children or public safety.

'Controlled disclosure is I believe the better and safer route.

Therefore I have concluded that the professional agencies - the

police and probation services - are best placed to determine the

disclosure of information on individual sex offenders.

'But I do believe that the public should have a right to know what

measures the police and probation services have in place to protect

the public. The guidance which I will issue will also include the

question of disclosure of information to groups or individuals and

will help to develop a consistent approach. The introduction of the

Criminal Records Bureau will enable better information to be

provided.'

Gill Mackenzie, chair of the Association of Chief Officers of

Probation said:

'Putting risk panels on a statutory basis will be very important.

Our hope is that, alongside new powers over offenders, we can act on

public fears effectively when they are genuine, and allay them when

they are unfounded.

'We clearly need to improve the way we talk to communities, and

improve the channels for communities to bring their anxieties and

suspicions to the police and others. These measures - working at

several levels - will bolster the powers that we have added to child

protection work in recent years.'

Tony Butler, chief constable of Gloucestershire and spokesman for the

Association of Chief Police Officers welcoming the announcement said:

'This will allow for the development of consistent policy and

procedures across the country based on identified best practice. ACPO

is committed to working closely with the Government and other

agencies to ensure that we build on the extensive arrangements

already in place for child protection.

'This announcement creates significant opportunities to enable all

those involved in child protection to continue to be justly proud of

our stand to prevent children being abused.'

Mary Marsh, NSPCC chief executive said:

'The NSPCC welcomes government proposals announced today to close

loopholes in the Sex Offenders' Register. We also welcome the wider

use of restrictions on convicted sex offenders and the risk

management and the risk assessment process being placed on a

statutory footing.

'The clarification of current practice on public notification of

dangerous sex offenders in the community should help restore public

confidence. The NSPCC looks forward to continuing our partnership

with the government, the police and probation and will be working

with them to produce information to parents to ensure their children

are safe.'

NOTES

1. A summary of the proposals follows.

2. All the proposals requiring legislation will be added to the

Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill, including the amendments to

the Sex Offenders' Act. (The Bill is currently at committee stage in

the house of lords).

3. The review of the Sex Offenders' Act will continue and will

consider other aspects of the Act not covered by these proposals.

4. Part two of the Criminal Justice and Court Services (CJCS) Bill

seeks to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual

exploitation by adults, by preventing unsuitable people from working

with children. (see attached press notice for details). This builds

on earlier legislation in the education area and on the Protection of

Children Act 1999 to provide an integrated system of child

protection. The Bill will also enable Probation Services to continue

to work with dangerous offenders even after their period of

supervision/licence has ended.

5. The CJCS Bill also includes new tagging provisions. The Bill will

create a new electronically monitored exclusion order which will

require an offender to stay away from certain places at certain

times. It will also allow for the electronic monitoring of a range of

community sentences and electronic monitoring as a condition of

licence.

PROPOSED LEGISLATIVE MEASURES

New statutory duties on the police and probation services in respect

of serious sexual and violent offenders

- Creation of a duty on chief officer of police and chief officer of

probation jointly to establish arrangements for assessing and

managing the risks posed by offenders convicted of a sexual or

violent offence and such other offenders as they consider pose a risk

of harm to the public. This to be coupled with a power for the

Secretary of State to issue guidance on such things as the

establishment of risk assessment and risk management systems, the

publication of information to the public about these arrangements

etc.

- A duty on the probation service to ascertain from the victim (or

the parent or guardian of the victim or family member as appropriate)

their wish to be consulted about the release arrangements for any

offender sentenced to twelve months or more imprisonment following

conviction for a sexual or violent offence. Where the victim wishes

to be informed, a duty on the probation service to take all

reasonable steps to notify the victim of the release arrangements,

whether any conditions are attached to the licence restricting the

movements of the offender, and specifically the terms of any

conditions which relate to contact with the victim

Amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 1997 to strengthen protections

against sex offenders

- A power for the secretary of state to make regulations concerning

notification to the police and probation service by those responsible

for the detention, discharge and release, including temporary

release, of sex offenders liable to registration under the Act.

- A new power for the crown court, when sentencing or otherwise

dealing with an offender who falls within the scope of the Act, to

make an order placing restrictions on the offender to have effect on

release from custody. This could include requirements about not

approaching victims. The order would be capable of being of

indefinite duration and of being varied or discharged on application

by the offender, the police or the probation service. Breach of the

order would be a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five

years imprisonment. The offender would remain liable for registration

for the duration of the order, even if otherwise the registration

requirement would have finished.

- Amendments to the registration provisions of the Act to require

notification of foreign travel and to increase the penalty for

failure to register to five years imprisonment. Initial registration

to take place in person within 72 hours and additional powers to be

provided to the police to photograph and fingerprint the offender on

initial registration.

These measures would supplement existing arrangements or plans. In

addition, the review of the Sex Offenders Act will continue and will

consider other aspects of the Act, not covered by these proposals.

LEGISLATIVE MEASURES ALREADY IN PLACE TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC FROM

DANGEROUS OFFENDERS

- The Sex Offenders Act 1997 requires that sex offenders convicted of

an offence under Schedule 1 to the 1997 must register their name and

address with the police. This Act is currently being reviewed with a

view to more effective use of registration and inclusion of those who

commit offences overseas or travel after release from prison. As of 1

September 1999, 10,065 offenders were recorded on the Police National

Computer as having notified the police in England and Wales of their

details, in accordance with the Act. This means that 96.9% of

offenders who are required to register have done so.

- Sex Offender Orders, introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act

1998. Can apply to offenders who have at any time in the past been

convicted of, or cautioned for, a sexual offence if their behaviour

continues to pose a threat. Should the behaviour of such an offender

give cause for concern, the police may apply to the courts for a Sex

Offender Order. The courts can make this order to impose conditions

necessary to protect the community from the defendant's behaviour

eg preventing him from loitering near schools and playgrounds. The

order is a civil order, and remains in force for a minimum of five

years. Breach of the order can result in a fine or imprisonment or

both.

- Extended sentences provisions in the Crime and Disorder Act giving

courts powers to pass 'extended sentences' on sexual and violent

offenders. This means that sex offenders may be subject to an

extended period of post-release supervision of up to 10 years in

addition to their present term of imprisonment and post-release

supervision under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

Such sentences cannot however be applied retrospectively.

- Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 requires the courts to impose a

mandatory life sentence, on offenders over 18 years, if they have

committed a second serious offence whilst already convicted of

another serious offence in the United Kingdom.

- Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which recently received

Royal Assent, will make it easier for police to monitor the

activities of paedophiles on the internet.

OTHER MEASURES TO INCREASE PUBLIC PROTECTION FROM DANGEROUS OFFENDERS

- The Criminal Records Bureau becomes operational next year.

Organisations involved in working with children will be able to

obtain criminal record and other information about prospective

workers, whether paid or unpaid, established or volunteers. This will

include the wide range of voluntary organisations as well as

statutory and other bodies in the public and private sector. Although

It will not be possible for them to disclose information which they

receive about individuals to parents, parents should be aware of the

fact that these checks can be and are being made and of other

recruitment and vetting procedures operated by the organisations.

- Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill currently before

parliament contains a scheme designed to prevent offenders who have

committed offences of sex or violence against children from working

with them on release. This would cover work in the public, private,

voluntary or volunteering sectors, whether paid or unpaid. The ban

would be imposed for life, and breach of the ban would be a serious

criminal offence.

- Dangerous offenders can be tagged if electronic monitoring will

enhance their supervision. The Criminal Justice and Court Services

Bill will allow tagging as a licence condition. This will include

reverse tagging which provides information on whether someone is

complying with a ban on entering a particular location.

- The government published proposals to reform the Mental Health Act

in November 1999 to ensure it reflects and underpins modern patterns

of treatment and care. Proposals in the consultation paper include

the principle that the safety of both the individual patient and the

public are of key importance in determining the question of whether

compulsory powers should be imposed

- Separate proposals on those who are dangerous and severely

personality disordered were also published. These are intended to

ensure that those who are assessed as being dangerous as a result of

a severe personality disorder will not be released until it is safe

to do so. This will include child sex offenders who are dangerous and

have a severe personality disorder. The home affairs select committee

strongly backed these proposals in their recent report. The

government is confident that new arrangements will be compatible with

obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

- The government is working with organisations such as the Lucy

Faithfull Foundation and the NSPCC to explore a more effective

approach to child sex abuse prevention, and consider how public

perceptions may be addressed to improve child protection. They are

also exploring the viability of community initiatives for supporting

sex offenders such as Circles of Support, a Canadian initiative that

has shown continued success in preventing sex offenders from

reoffending.

- The Sex Offences Review document, 'Setting the Boundaries' was

published on 26 July. It has made far-reaching recommendations to

strengthen the effectiveness and protection of the law for children,

raised important questions about the nature of the protection that

should be offered to vulnerable people, proposed codifying and

clarifying the law on consent in rape and setting the law on a fair

and non-discriminatory basis for men and women whether as victim or

offender.

CRIMINAL RECORDS BUREAU

Information from police and other sources will be more widely

available to employers, voluntary organisations and others who employ

people to work with children, and also with vulnerable adults.

The government is in the process of establishing the Criminal Records

Bureau to provide this service.

Present arrangements

At present, police checks on employees are mainly on people working

for local authorities in jobs giving them substantial regular

unsupervised access to children. Some voluntary organisations are

able to access police checks, but most voluntary organisations and

other employers cannot.

The police have never been specifically resourced to carry out such

work. The resources for this purpose have had to be found despite

many other pressures on police time. In those circumstances where it

has been agreed that police checks should be provided, the demand for

such checks has grown substantially over the years, and some forces

have encountered difficulty in meeting the demand within agreed

timetables.

The government is therefore in the process of establishing the

Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

What the CRB will offer

Any employer, voluntary organisation, etc will be able to ask a

person seeking a job or a position to apply for a certificate from

the CRB.

The CRB will offer three different types of certificate, according to

the circumstances:

- a criminal conviction certificate will contain information about

any convictions that are not 'spent' under the Rehabilitation of

Offenders Act;

- a criminal record certificate will be available to people working

in areas involving regular contact with young people under the age of

18, and with the elderly, sick or handicapped people; and also to a

range of other people involved in the administration of the law (eg

police officers) or employed in other sensitive areas and

professions. The certificate will include details of convictions,

including those 'spent' under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act,

and of cautions; and

- an enhanced criminal record certificate will be available for those

applying for positions which involve regularly caring for, training,

supervising or being in sole charge of those under the age of 18, or

of vulnerable adults, as well as for certain statutory licensing

purposes (eg gaming and lotteries licences) and for those being

considered for judicial appointments. Like the criminal record

certificate, this certificate will contain information on 'spent' and

'unspent' convictions and cautions but, in addition, will include

information from local police records including relevant

non-conviction information.

In addition,in the case of applications for one of the two highest

levels of certificate (the criminal record certificate, and the

enhanced criminal record certificate) in relation to a job or

position working with children, a search will be made of other

records. These are a list kept by the department for education and

employment of people barred from teaching; and a list kept by the

department of health of people considered unsuitable to work with

children. The CRB will therefore provide a convenient 'one-stop shop'

service.

The aim is to make the process of applying for a certificate as

straightforward as possible, and to provide a quick service for the

delivery of certificates. But great care will be taken in checking

the identity of the person applying for the certificate.

The timetable for the CRB

The bureau will be run as a partnership between the government and

the private sector. The contract was awarded to the private sector

partner last month.

The target is that the bureau should begin issuing the highest levels

of certificates around July 2001, with priority being given to those

working with children. It is intended that the bureau should be fully

operational, and issuing all three types of certificate, by around

July 2002.

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