Thousands of convicted sex attackers may now be able to challenge their positions on the sex offenders register, after a landmark High Court case ruled that forcing them to remain on the list for life was a breach of their human rights.
The surprise ruling was handed down at the end of two test cases involving sex offenders.
Three presiding judges at the High Court in London agreed that keeping the two offenders on the register for life, without giving them the chance to prove that they were no longer a danger to the public, would be “incompatible” with human rights legislation.
Lord Justice Latham, Mr Justice Underhill and Mr Justice Flaux said keeping offenders on the list indefinitely clashed with article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is designed to protect a person’s right to privacy.
Lord Justice Latham admitted that the right of any sex offender to have their place on the register reviewed “should be tightly subscribed in the public interest”, since it would be difficult to establish that they no longer presented any risk of reoffending.
But he added: “I find it difficult to see how it could be justifiable in article eight terms to deny a person who believes himself to be in that position an opportunity to seek to establish it.”
One of the cases involved a 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named. He was convicted of two offences of rape at the age of 11, and was sentenced to 30 months detention before being released on licence in January 2007.
The teenager’s parents later booked a holiday to Spain but he was unable to travel without prior approval as he was a registered sex offender.
His local youth offending team then wrote to his parents, reminding them that “for the remainder of his life” he would have to notify authorities any time he travelled abroad. The teenager’s lawyer, Hugh Southey, told the court that due to the lack of any review process, the boy could still be on the register at the age of 70 or 80, even if he committed no further offences. He argued that the impact of the regulations on young children could be “significant and dispiriting”.
“It is important that the state does what it can to encourage the development of children who have committed serious offences in a positive way, rather than a negative way.”
The other test case was that of Angus Thompson, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment in November 1996 on two counts of indecent assault of a female, and other offences of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He has not reoffended since his release.
His lawyer, Pete Weatherby, argued that adults should also be entitled to periodic reviews, so they would not have to notify the police of travel plans or changes in their address.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was said to be angered by the ruling. A Home Office official said the Government was considering an appeal.
“We are extremely disappointed with the High Court judgement,” the official said. “The UK has one of the most robust systems of managing sex offenders in the world. The notification requirements form an important part of this system.
“They provide an invaluable tool to the authorities in allowing the police to keep track of the whereabouts of individual sex offenders and managing the risk of known sex offenders.”
There are 31,392 sex offenders on the register. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, any of them who have been given a sentence of more than 30 months must remain on it for life, without the opportunity to have their inclusion on the register reviewed.Reuse content